The Agricultural Improvement Act of 2018 (2018 Farm Act): Consolidates USDA’s four market development and export promotion programs into a new Agricultural Trade Promotion and Facilitation Program and provides the Secretary of Agriculture new flexibility in promoting trade.Permits Market Access Program and Foreign Market Development Cooperator Program funding for activities in Cuba, with the restriction that funds are not used in contravention of the policy outlined in National Security Presidential Memorandum 5 of June 16, 2017.Expands technical assistance and extension efforts to increase trade and improve global food security.Removes minimum commodity monetization requirement (i.e., donated food sold to fund programming) for nonemergency development programs under Food for Peace.Requires more detailed annual reporting by USDA and USAID on use of funds by cooperators and implementing parties.New Programs and Provisions-Agricultural Trade Promotion and Facilitation Program (ATPFP)—With mandatory annual funding of $255 million, the ATPFP consolidates USDA’s four market development and export promotion programs (Market Access Program, Foreign Market Development Cooperator Program, E. Kika De La Garza Emerging Markets Program, and Technical Assistance for Specialty Crops) and adds to it the Priority Trade Fund. This new fund provides the Secretary of Agriculture $3.5 million annually to promote trade when the ATPFP’s component programs have applications that exceed available funding. Biotechnology and Agricultural Trade Program—Assists with the removal of nontariff and other trade barriers to U.S. agricultural products produced with biotechnology and other agricultural technologies. The program was originally part of the Food Agriculture and Conservation Act of 1990 and was appropriated $6 million annually from 2002 to 2007.
Seven workers at a Tennessee beef slaughter plant raided by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents last year are suing the agency for alleged violations of their constitutional rights. The National Immigration Law Center (NILC), the Southern Poverty Law Center and the law firm of Sherrard, Roe, Voigt & Harbison filed the class-action lawsuit on behalf of the workers, who were in a group of about 100 Latino employees detained in the April 2018 raid at Southeastern Provision. The suit alleges that ICE officers detained any worker who “looked Latino without regard to citizenship or documentation,” according to a news release from the NILC. The ICE activities represented violations of the workers’ Fourth and Seventh Amendment rights guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution, the lawsuit contends.
The Department of Agriculture is projecting a $1.9 billion drop in exports this year, led by a decline in trade with China. While talks remain ongoing between China and the United States, USDA during its 95th annual Agricultural Outlook Forum Thursday predicted 2019 fiscal year exports at $141.5 billion. USDA Chief Economist Robert Johansson told attendees China is expected to fall from the top market for U.S. exports in 2017, to the fifth largest market in 2019, pending the outcome of trade talks.
The top U.S., Canadian and Mexican agriculture officials came together today to espouse the benefits of trilateral cooperation and a newly renegotiated North American trade pact, but the unity was marred by the Trump administration’s refusal to lift its steel and aluminum tariffs. U.S. Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue, flanked by Canadian Agriculture Minister Lawrence MacAulay and Mexican Agriculture Secretary Victor Villalobos Arámbula, said he was optimistic the “Section 232” tariffs would be lifted and the countries would ratify the trade pact, but his counterparts were more hesitant.All three officials were on the stage together at USDA’s 95th annual Agricultural Outlook Forum to jointly provide the keynote address for the two-day event. “We don’t know yet,” Villalobos told Agri-Pulse when he was asked if Mexico’s Senate would be willing to ratify the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement that leaders of the three countries signed in December.MacAulay stressed historical cooperation with the U.S., but also forcefully demanded: “We need steel and aluminum tariffs off.”Perdue, for his part, also stressed an intense desire to see the 232 tariffs lifted. He said he has lobbied the White House and U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer to do away with the import taxes, but he hasn’t yet been successful.
Top Trump administration officials have pushed to build nuclear power plants throughout Saudi Arabia over the vigorous objections of White House lawyers who question the legality of the plan and the ethics of a venture that could enrich Trump allies, according to a new report by House Democrats. The report is the most detailed portrait to date of how senior White House figures — including Michael T. Flynn, President Trump’s first national security adviser — worked with retired military officers to circumvent the normal policymaking process to promote an export plan that experts worried could spread nuclear weapons technology in the volatile Middle East. Administration lawyers warned that the nuclear exports plan — called the Middle East Marshall Plan — could violate laws meant to stop nuclear proliferation and raised concerns about Mr. Flynn’s conflicts of interest.
The U.S. Forest Service is still struggling to manage sexual misconduct challenges at the agency. The Agriculture Department’s inspector general said the Forest Service isn’t quickly acting on sexual misconduct and assault allegations and is not identifying applicants who have a history of sexual harassment. Three House committee chairmen said they want a special briefing from the IG and the Forest Service on the recent findings. They’re asking the IG to review USDA’s process for handling sexual assault and misconduct allegations.
The recently signed Agriculture Improvement Act of 2018 (aka, the farm bill)broke new ground on several fronts for growers and industry stakeholders. Among the new farm bill’s many pages is the first statutory language in any federal law about plant biostimulants.The farm bill describes a plant biostimulant as “a substance or microorganism that, when applied to seeds, plants, or the rhizosphere, stimulates natural processes to enhance or benefit nutrient uptake, nutrient efficiency, tolerance to abiotic stress, or crop quality and yield.”Biostimulants are reportedly playing an increasingly important role with farmers to make their crops more productive thereby increasing farm profitability.
The Environmental Protection Agency and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers published a proposed rule defining the scope of waters regulated under the federal Clean Water Act, opening a public comment period through April 15. The document, published in the Federal Register, revises the definition of “waters of the United States” (WOTUS) in line with a February 2017 executive order directing the agencies to review the 2015 WOTUS rule, the agencies said. Under the new rule, traditional navigable waters, tributaries to those waters, certain ditches, certain lakes and ponds, impoundments of jurisdictional waters, and wetlands adjacent to jurisdictional waters would be federally regulated.The rule also spells out what are not “waters of the United States,” including features that only contain water during or in response to rainfall (ephemeral features); groundwater; many ditches, including most roadside or farm ditches; prior converted cropland; storm water control features; and waste treatment systems.
Gives new emphasis to rural health issues, primarily through the direction of program funds. The first section focuses on rural substance abuse, directing the Secretary to set aside 20 percent of Distance Learning and Telemedicine Program funds for projects providing treatment services for substance use disorders. Requires the Secretary to give priority to Community Facilities applications that provide facilities for services, including telehealth services, designed to prevent, treat, and assist in the recovery from substance abuse, and to the Rural Health and Safety Program for education and treatment projects aimed at reducing substance abuse in rural communities. Directs the Secretary to prioritize or set aside funds for telemedicine projects, community health facilities, and rural health and safety education programs aimed at prevention, treatment, or recovery from substance abuse disorders.Provides loans, grants, and other assistance to rural communities for broadband services, prioritizing assistance to rural communities that lack access to high-speed broadband and face other socioeconomic disadvantages. Increases the minimum acceptable standards of broadband for those projects.Establishes provisions for rural communities, business development, and rural infrastructure. Prioritizes support to community, business development, and infrastructure projects that support implementation of strategic plans on a multi-jurisdictional basis and reserves a portion of funds for such projects.Requires USDA to re-establish the position of Under Secretary of Agriculture for Rural Development.
FDA enforcement of the Produce Safety Rule is coming soon via routine inspections. In the run-up to these inspections, Commissioner Gottlieb highlighted the agency’s efforts to provide training, issue guidance, share technical assistance, and contribute funding to state produce safety systems. While the Produce Safety Rule was “hotly debated,” says Shawn Hogue, a lawyer with K&L Gates in Miami, “there is quantifiable evidence its established mandatory science-based, minimum standards for the safe growing, packing, and harvesting of fruits and vegetables has been effective and will likely be even more effective in the near future.” It remains to be seen how the Produce Safety Rule will play out with the FDA’s forthcoming routine inspections, especially if another government shutdown were to occur. Just this January, the FDA’s routine food safety inspections were curtailed due to the interruption in funds, although some inspections were later restarted even during the shutdown. Let’s hope the FDA’s further implementation of the Produce Safety Rule produces results in ensuring the safety of America’s food supply.