READ the NAFB’s National Ag News for Thursday, December 22nd

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READ the NAFB’s National Ag News for Thursday, December 22nd

Combs a Surprise Potential Ag Secretary Nominee

The search for an Agriculture Secretary has turned its attention to Susan Combs. She’s a former Commissioner of Agriculture and state comptroller of Texas. Combs met with Vice President-elect Mike Pence on Tuesday, which may have been due to the endorsement of House Ag Committee Chairman Mike Conaway of Texas. He told Politico’s Morning Agriculture report that he’s “been working to put her name into consideration” with President-elect Trump’s transition management team. The team didn’t comment publicly, but Combs is the first publicly acknowledged candidate for Ag Secretary to meet with Pence or Trump since North Dakota Democratic Senator Heidi Heitkamp on December 2. Combs grew up on a west Texas cattle ranch, but some are questioning her fit with the Trump administration. As Texas Ag Commissioner, she pushed nutrition policies in line with Michelle Obama’s and backed two of Trump’s rivals in the primaries. Conaway said her accomplishments as a comptroller stand out, saying she streamlined tax processes, recaptured $600 million in unpaid taxes, and cut $400 million dollars in government purchasing by making the process more efficient. Conaway says, “The federal government needs more people with that kind of expertise.”


Hormel Settles Dispute with Labor Department

37 women are heading to Hormel for work after the company settled a hiring dispute with the Department of Labor. A Meating Place Dot Com article says Hormel will hire the women with retroactive seniority and pay back over half a million dollars in back wages to 403 female job applicants who were denied entry-level jobs at its Fremont, Nebraska plant. Hormel’s fine and retroactive hiring agreement bring to a close a case filed by the Labor Department after it found Hormel discriminated against the women in its hiring process. Hormel is a federal contractor so it’s required to hire according to anti-discriminatory rules set forth in an executive order. Hormel has a federal contract to be a food supplier for the U.S. Departments of Agriculture and Defense. The Department of Labor found that Hormel was discriminatory in its hiring practices from February of 2008 to February of 2009. Hormel Foods said in a statement, “While we disagree with the Department of Labor, we believe a settlement now will avoid an unnecessary distraction.” Other meatpacking companies have faced similar suits over hiring practices, including Pilgrim’s Pride and JBS.


Proposed Organic Livestock Farm Rules Not Guaranteed

Rules that would change the production of organic meat are awaiting President Obama’s approval but may run out of time. That means they might not ever go into effect. The High Plains Public Radio website says the proposed rules would clarify current rules and create new standards of care for animals on organic livestock farms. The rules would focus in on livestock and poultry living conditions, veterinary care, as well as transportation and slaughtering of livestock. The U.S. Department of Agriculture put the new rules together and estimates they’ll cost producers roughly $13 million per year. President-elect Donald Trump will be sworn in on January 20 and has pledged to undo a lot of regulations put into place by President Obama. Livestock industry officials and producers want these new rules to be among those that go away. The USDA says consumers aren’t certain about what the organic livestock label actually means, and that current standards are too ambiguous and confusing. Groups like the Organic Trade Association say the regulation updates are necessary to keep the organic label from getting watered down. The Association says rules like these should make sure producers don’t charge a premium for their product without following the rules for producing organic meats. Ag groups like the National Pork Producers Council and state chapters of the American Farm Bureau are vehemently opposed to the proposed rule changes.  


EPA Removing Pesticide Ingredients from The Market

The Environmental Protection Agency is removing 72 inert ingredients from the list of ingredients approved for use in pesticides. Any manufacturers who want to use those ingredients in the future will need to first demonstrate their safety to the EPA, either through studies or other information. The EPA will then decide whether or not to approve the request. EPA is taking this action in response to a petition filed by the Center for Environmental Health, Beyond Pesticides, and others. The groups initially asked the EPA to disclose up to 371 inert ingredients in pesticides. In response, the EPA then said it will evaluate the risks found in each inert ingredient and make changes as appropriate. Pesticide ingredients that directly control weeds or insects are called active ingredients. Those that don’t directly affect pests are called inert ingredients. Many of the 72 inert ingredients were included on the original list of 371.


Rabobank Issues Report on Reshaping Food Sector

The Rabobank Food and Agriculture Advisory Group issued a report on how the future is shaping up for North American agriculture, especially focusing in on agribusinesses over the next five years. The results show farmers will have an incentive to consolidate, streamline their operations, and respond to consumer desires. Senior Analyst Sterling Liddel says, “We’re expecting changes across the agriculture industry and the need for producers to respond and adapt in order to survive and succeed.” The report says three years of losses have forced farmers to use up most of their liquidity and they have tough decisions ahead about structuring debt and equity. Due to a decline in grain prices, the protein sector is expanding and should continue to do so next year. The dairy industry is facing increasing competition from non-dairy, plant-based alternatives across America. To be successful, the industry needs to promote dairy as an integral part of American food consumption. The report also says sugar processors will continue to move towards more non-GMO sources.   


USDA Announces Cost Sharing for Organic Producers

The U.S. Department of Agriculture says organic producers can head to one of 2,100 Farm Service Agency offices on March 20, 2017, and apply for financial help to assist with the cost of receiving or maintaining current organic or transitional certification. FSA Administrator Val Dolcini says, “USDA is committed to helping the organic sector grow through a wide variety of programs. That’s why, on March 20, producers can head to their FSA offices and apply for reimbursements of up to 75 percent of cost share certification.” He says this provides a more streamlined application process around the nation and will give organic producers a chance to learn more about the various USDA assistance programs, including farm loans and conservation assistance. USDA hopes these changes will encourage more producers to sign up for the National Organic Certification Cost-Share Program, as well as the Agricultural Management Assistance Organic Certification Cost-Share Program. These changes should also provide organic producers an opportunity to access a full range of USDA programs, such as disaster protection and loans for farms, facilities, and marketing. Eligible producers include any certified producers or handlers who’s paid organic or transitional certification fees to a USDA-accredited certifying agent.

SOURCE: NAFB News Service