In advance of the U.S. Department of Agriculture's (USDA) seventh annual Pollinator Week Festival, the USDA is announcing two initiatives in support of the President's National Strategy to Promote the health of Honeybees and Other Pollinators, announced just over one year ago. A review of USDA's most popular conservation program found that farmers and ranchers across the country are creating at least 15 million acres of healthy forage and habitat for pollinators, and the department has also entered into a new partnership with leading honey bee organizations that will help to ensure future conservation projects continue to provide benefits to these important species.
Gov. Paul LePage continues to challenge the federal government over how to administer the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, commonly known as food stamps. In a letter sent late last week to Department of Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, the governor threatened that if the USDA won’t allow Maine to ban the purchase of certain foods – sugar-sweetened drinks and candy – he will end the state’s administration of the program. “It’s time for the federal government to wake up and smell the energy drinks,” LePage wrote. “Doubtful that it will, I will be pursuing options to implement reform unilaterally, or cease Maine’s administration of the food stamp program altogether. You maintain such a broken program that I do not want my name attached to it.”
The Global Food Security Act is intended to make the “Feed the Future” program a permanent program, locked into statute. It is on the goal line in Congress thanks to bipartisan leadership and cooperation between both Agriculture Committees and the two Foreign Relations Committees. According to a new report by The Economist the “Global Food Security Index” is improving. The UN Food and Agriculture Organization estimate “the number of undernourished people has fallen by 176 million of the past ten years” but we still have a way to go. One in nine people still remain hungry, or some 800 million people and half of those people are smallholder farmers. Seventy-five percent (75%) of the world's poor live in rural areas in developing countries. Most people who live in these areas rely directly on agriculture for their livelihoods, particularly women. In Kenya, for example, agriculture is the driving force of the economy and central to the Government of Kenya's development strategy. More than 75 percent of all Kenyans make some part of their living in agriculture, and the sector accounts for more than a fourth of Kenya's gross domestic product.
In 2010, the US Agency for International Development and the Administration launched “Feed the Future” (FTF), an initiative designed to expand and better coordinate the United States' investments in improving global food security. Feed the Future is a whole-of-government approach that focuses on the dual objectives of improving farmer productivity, income, and livelihoods in developing countries while fighting hunger with a special focus on women and children in particular.
A federal judge has thrown out a USDA policy that allowed organic farmers to fertilize crops with compost containing the residues of prohibited pesticides. At this point, one certainty of the ruling is that organic farmers will not be allowed to use contaminated compost beginning on Aug. 22. The order’s impact is otherwise murky. The plaintiffs who filed a lawsuit against USDA’s controversial “guidance” say the ruling won’t cause serious economic disruption, but some groups representing organic farmers fear major upheaval. “We are overturning the existing system. We are replacing it with nothing,” said Dennis Nuxoll, vice president of federal government affairs for the Western Growers Association, whose members grow roughly half of U.S. organic produce.
The Obama administration is announcing $48 million in grants to help farmers and others in the west conserve water and energy amid drought and climate change. The agriculture department says the effort will include 76 projects in at least 11 western states, which includes Nevada. But drought grants are not new to Nevada farmers. Nevada farmers have been able to receive grants over the past few years to help keep their farms from drying up. Rick Lattin of Lattin Farms in Fallon Nevada hopes these new grants can help restore the agricultural landscape. The funds include $15 million in USDA funds and $32.6 million from the Bureau of Reclamation for local projects to improve water and energy efficiency and provide a strengthened federal response to ongoing and potential drought across 13 states in the West.
Acting Deputy Secretary of Agriculture Michael Scuse today announced that the federal crop insurance program will provide additional flexibility to farmers. The modifications center on the practice of growing two crops on the same field at different times of the year, which is known as double cropping. This change will address both land added to an operation, and account for multiple crop rotations. These changes will be in effective for the 2017 crop year for most crops, starting with winter wheat. The ability to modify coverage as needed to adequately accommodate growing two crops on one field in the same year will be available for most crops in the 2017 growing season. USDA officials say the program will kick off with winter wheat.
Senators have a bipartisan deal to require labeling of genetically modified ingredients nationally, a week before a labeling law in Vermont goes into effect. The deal announced Thursday by the top Republican and Democrat on the Senate Agriculture Committee would require the nationwide labeling of genetically modified organisms, or GMOs, in packaged foods for the first time. But it would be more lenient than Vermont's law, allowing food companies to use a text label, a symbol or electronic label accessed by smartphone. Vermont's law would require items to be labeled "produced with genetic engineering." The agreement couldn't become law before Vermont's law kicks in July 1, since the House is on vacation until July 5. Legislation passed by the House would make the labeling voluntary, but that measure stalled in the Senate earlier this year.
Agriculture’s 24/7 workload poses special issues for payroll. Most farmers assume they are not required to pay overtime for any farm work performed by their employees, points out Paul Neiffer, a CPA with CliftonLarsonAllen in Yakima, Washington. But given the new rules imposed by the Department of Labor starting December 1, you need to carefully review that policy and the impact on your labor expense, he advises. The Department of Labor announced final regulations on new overtime rules May 18, greatly expanding who qualifies for overtime treatment. “Direct” agricultural work still is generally exempt from overtime, so if you’re pressed to run full speed during planting and harvest, you simply pay field hands their hourly rate multiplied by time worked. Immediate family members employed on farm also are completely exempt from overtime rules. Neither of those exemptions have changed, says Angie Ziegler who advises clients on payroll issues for the accounting firm of EideBailly in Mankato, Minnesota.
Federal Reserve Chairwoman Janet Yellen said the chances of recession this year are “quite low” despite mounting worries that the U.S. could be heading toward a downturn after seven years of tepid economic expansion. Still, a clearly tentative Fed leader has a long list of factors she worries will hold growth to a modest pace in the months ahead. Output growth, hiring, business investment and corporate profits have stumbled or slowed in recent months, leaving the Fed unsure when it will raise short-term interest rates again. Fed officials next meet July 26-27. Ms. Yellen gave no indication that she expects to lift rates at that time. Instead, she stuck to a line that the Fed will raise rates gradually, cautiously and without a set timetable.
The giant Panama Canal expansion opens June 26 amid much fanfare and one of the worst shipping industry slumps ever. While it won’t do anything to help the dire state of the industry near-term, the changes are critical to Western trade in the long run. The canal, which handles about a third of Asia-to-Americas trade, had no choice but to expand. As the industry copes with its downturn, major shipping companies are pooling their resources and using fewer but much bigger ships—ones that are too large to fit through the pre-expansion Panama Canal. The nine-year, $5.4 billion expansion more than doubles the canal’s cargo capacity. A third lane has been added to the canal that accommodates ships large enough to carry up to 14,000 containers, compared with around 5,000 currently. This alleviates a cargo bottleneck caused by the smaller ships that was due to get worse over time.
The expansion makes the Panama Canal more competitive with the Suez Canal in Egypt, shortening the one-way journey by sea from Asia to the U.S. East Coast by roughly five days and eliminating the need for a trip around Cape Horn to get to the Atlantic.