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Interior Department policy let political appointees review FOIA requests

Roll Call | Posted on May 23, 2019

So-called awareness review process could expose department to legal action. The Interior Department has for about a year allowed political appointees to weigh in on which federal records are released to the public, creating delays that could violate open records law and expose the department to legal action.While Interior says the so-called awareness review process merely continues a practice informally exercised during the Obama administration, First Amendment lawyers say the department’s formal application of the policy is unusual.Interior formalized its policy in May 2018 without a public announcement, and in February expanded its application to records relating to officials who left the department, including former Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke.The process, which flags for review documents that name political appointees, has become a concern for lawmakers. Before his nomination to be the department’s solicitor was approved Tuesday by the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, acting solicitor Daniel Jorjani was questioned by Democrats who wanted to learn more about his involvement in these reviews.“The Solicitor must uphold the law above all else — above party, politics, and ideology. That was not the sense I got from Mr. Jorjani’s responses to our questions,” Manchin said in a news release.

Wisconsin farmers tells Fox News suicides, bankruptcy rising in rural U.S. amid China trade war

Newsweek | Posted on May 20, 2019

A National Farmers Union executive and active Wisconsin dairy farmer joined Midwest agricultural leaders this week in condemning President Donald Trump's ongoing trade war with China, warning of increased financial stress and suicide among farmers. Patty Edelburg, vice president of the Washington-based NFU group, which says it represents some 200,000 U.S. farms, appeared on Fox News Thursday and detailed what she viewed as the dire state of American farming amid falling income and commodity prices, resulting in a surging number of bankruptcies, increased financial stress and suicide in the agricultural community. “It has been insane,” Edelburg told America's Newsroom anchors Sandra Smith and Jon Scott Thursday. “We’ve had a lot of farmers—a lot more bankruptcies going on, a lot more farmer suicides. These things are highlighting many of the news stories in our local news."Recent national data and surveys show rural mental health problems are rampant and rising among U.S. farmworkers. 


Trade aid could reach $20B: USDA calculating 'legally defensible' trade damage done to producers

DTN | Posted on May 20, 2019

Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue said that a second trade aid package for farmers may total $15 billion to $20 billion, the latter figure $5 billion higher than President Donald Trump has suggested. Perdue said that USDA would calculate "the legally defensible trade damage done to our producers," give that estimate to Trump and would be "prepared to defend those amounts" to the World Trade Organization, where the United States could face charges that it has violated rules on subsidies. Perdue said he could not comment on whether the formula for providing payments to farmers would be different from the last package, in which soybean growers got $1.65 per bushel, corn growers got one cent per bushel and wheat growers got 14 cents.Perdue also said that, although Trump has talked about using a portion of tariff receipts to pay for the aid, he believes that the money will come from the Commodity Credit Corporation, as it did last time.The CCC can spend $30 billion per year, and it is not known whether the CCC is bumping up against its spending cap this late in the fiscal year, which ends Sept. 30.


USDA opens signup for new On-Farm Trials effort

The Fence Post | Posted on May 16, 2019

 USDA is investing up to $25 million per year over the next five years to help support the adoption and evaluation of innovative conservation approaches on agricultural lands. USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service is accepting proposals through July 15, 2019, for On-Farm Conservation Innovation Trials, a new, additional sub-program created by the 2018 farm bill for the USDA’s Conservation Innovation Grants program. On-Farm Trials include a Soil Health Demo Trial, also created by the 2018 farm bill.

Michigan farmers blast Trump trade policies amid new Chinese tariffs

Detroit Free Press | Posted on May 16, 2019

Frustrated Michigan farmers blasted the Trump administration's trade policies Monday, hours after China announced new tariffs on $60 billion in U.S. imports. "The noose is getting tighter," said Jim Byrum, president of the Michigan Agri-Business Association."We have lost market opportunities. We're not shipping soybeans around the world like we normally would. We're not shipping them to China. China was our biggest soybean consumer, and they're not moving."China was also the biggest opportunity for Michigan producers to sell pork, "and they're not buying because of the tariffs," Byrum said."The new Chinese tariffs ... it's going to hurt even more."

FCC Rural Broadband Fund Would Move Funds From Existing Program | Posted on May 16, 2019

The rural broadband fund that Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai proposed last week would rely on funding from an existing broadband program slated to expire next year, while also setting higher standards for internet speeds, according to the FCC. Around $2 billion has been available annually in recent years through the Connect America Fund and that same amount would be shifted to the new fund, dubbed the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund, said Mark Wigfield. The new program, as envisioned, would differ from the Connect America Fund in some key ways, Wigfield said.For one, he said it would also establish a minimum speed threshold of 25 megabits per second for downloads and 3 megabits per second for uploads, as opposed to 10 mbps and 1 mbps.

House Agriculture Subcommittee Hearing: “Reviewing the State of the Farm Economy”

Farm Doc Daily | Posted on May 16, 2019

The numbers paint a rough picture: USDA forecasts net farm income level for 2019 to be only 77 percent of the annual average for 2000 through 2017. It’s down 50 percent from 2013 alone. Inflation-adjusted farm debt is the highest it has been since 1980 and the debt-to-asset ratio for farmers is rising steadily.

US planning to support farmers amid China trade spat: Agriculture secretary

Straits Times | Posted on May 16, 2019

US Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue said on Friday (May 10) that US President Donald Trump had asked him to create a plan to help American farmers cope with the heavy impact on agriculture of the trade war with China. A new aid program would be the second round of assistance for farmers, after the US Department of Agriculture’s US$12 billion plan last year to compensate for lower prices for farm goods and lost sales stemming from trade disputes with China and other nations.

House Ag Appropriations Questions Perdue on ERS Move

Herald Review | Posted on May 14, 2019

Sanford Bishop and Sonny Perdue go way back. So far back that Bishop, now a 14-term, Democratic congressman from south Georgia, remembers when Perdue, now the Secretary of Agriculture under President Donald J. Trump, was a Democrat.Their friendship was tested April 9 when Perdue appeared before the House Appropriations ag subcommittee to defend the president’s 2020 budget request for the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). Bishop, as chairman of the subcommittee, oversees every taxpayer nickel USDA receives.During his question time, Bishop roasted the secretary’s plan to move two USDA agencies, the Economic Research Service and the National Institute for Food and Agriculture, out of Washington, D.C. No one, he said, favors the move except Perdue.Not only that, Bishop went on, Perdue was moving ahead with his plan despite the subcommittee not receiving a cost-benefit analysis on it that the secretary had promised. In fact, he continued, Perdue’s rush to shuffle ERS and NIFA out of town just “seems to be a solution in search of a problem.”When asked to comment on those facts — especially that no one with any working knowledge of his plan endorsed it — Perdue went full farm folksy: “Mr. Chairman,” he said, “I’m just amazed that all those people you mentioned could all be wrong.” He then grinned weakly. Bishop is just the latest public official to question Perdue on his ERS/NIFA plan. All — like Perdue himself — have seen no evidence to support it because, in fact, there is no evidence to support it. Moreover, Perdue can’t explain it in any terms other than nonsense like “getting ERS closer to its customers.” On May 7, however, Politico, a Washington-based news service, reported that the plan was the Trump Administration “retaliating” against the ERS “for publishing reports that shed negative light on White House policies…” Specifically, ERS “has run afoul of… Perdue… with its finding on how farmers have been financially harmed by President Donald Trump’s trade feuds, the Republican tax code rewrite and other sensitive issues…”

In Farm Belt, objections mount to ‘endless tariff war’

Food & Environmental Reporting Network | Posted on May 14, 2019

In a sign that their patience is waning, soybean leaders called for talks, not tariffs, in the Sino-U.S. trade war. “With depressed prices and unsold stocks expected to double by the 2019 harvest, soybean farmers are not willing to be collateral damage in an endless tariff war,” said Davie Stephens, a Kentucky farmer and president of the American Soybean Association. The National Farmers Union, the second-largest U.S. farm group, also said that the financially beleaguered agricultural sector needs long-term economic solutions, rather than spur of the moment bailouts from the White House. Building on Twitter posts over the weekend, President Trump told reporters the administration would provide $15 billion in assistance “so our farmers can do well.” He gave no details. A 2018 package sent $8.3 billion in cash to producers of nine commodities.Senate Agriculture chairman Pat Roberts urged a speedy resolution of the trade war. “It is essential to focus on what can be done now,” said Roberts. “These negotiations must find a successful conclusion soon so our producers can realize open and reliable markets in China and around the world.”The administration is quick to promise and slow on details, said economists Brent Gloy and David Widmar, when “farmers and ranchers deserve better” than short-term thinking. “We contend it is exceedingly difficult for U.S. producers to make business and financial plans when the promises are a combination of mixed messages and light on details. However, a strategic plan with long-term, multiple-year payments mechanisms built in – should the trade war continue – would significantly help farm managers and the farm economy.”In some of the strongest language yet by a U.S. farm group, the American Soybean Association said the trade war threatens farmers’ ability to stay in business. The ASA urged the administration to remove its unilateral tariffs and work with other nations to reform China’s trade policies. Before tit-for-tat tariffs, China bought a third of U.S.-grown soybeans. Exports have plunged and the U.S. stockpile is headed for a record 1 billion bushels, a three-month supply.“Our patience is waning, our finances are suffering and the stress from months of living with the consequences of these tariffs is mounting,” said ASA chairman John Heisdorffer, of Iowa.