READ the NAFB’s National Ag News for Friday, February 28th

READ the NAFB’s National Ag News for Friday, February 28th

Sponsored by the American Farm Bureau Federation

EPA Set to Back Down on Ethanol Waivers

The Environmental Protection Agency is backing down on its extensive use of blending exemptions for smaller oil refiners. A Reuters report says the decision comes after last month’s 10th ​Circuit Court of Appeals ruling that vacated three existing waivers and set stricter requirements for exempting refineries from their obligations under the Renewable Fuels Standard. It’s been well-documented that the EPA drastically ramped up its use of refinery waivers under President Donald Trump. That sparked a fierce backlash from farmers who have largely supported the president despite policies like trade tariffs that have hit the U.S. agricultural sector hard. The White House has been struggling to find a compromise between oil and agriculture, two of the bigger pieces of Trump’s political base as he looks toward possible re-election. The court decision from January found that only small oil refineries that had maintained blending exemptions continuously since 2011 were eligible to apply for extended waivers. Oil and biofuel industry estimates both say that could preclude all but three oil refineries from obtaining exemptions. The EPA is currently reviewing 23 petitions for blending waivers and most are expected to be rejected.

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Committee Hearing Highlights Differences over Trade Policies and Aid

At a House Ways and Means Committee hearing, the split between farmers and lawmakers over the trade policies of President Trump was a big topic of conversation. Another big topic of discussion included the impact of the Phase One trade deal with China. An Agri-Pulse report describes Republicans on the committee as playing down the overall impact of the trade war and saying the trade agreement with China was a “major success.” Democrats pointed out that tariffs are continuing to restrict trade. Both sides of the political aisle said Trump’s duties on imports and the resulting retaliatory tariffs hurt the U.S. agricultural sector. Some people at the hearing were optimistic that China would follow through on its promise to purchase $80 billion worth of farm products over the next two years. Others weren’t convinced and said billions more in government assistance may be needed to further blunt the damage from a continuing loss of overseas exports. Minnesota farmer Tim DuFault was one of the witnesses at the committee hearing and said, “As far as the Phase One deal goes, the purchases that haven’t yet materialized are a promise, while the tariffs are for real. Commodity prices, which plummeted when the trade war began, have actually fallen further after the U.S. and China signed the phase one deal.”

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Hemp Growers Get Good News

The Drug Enforcement Agency says it won’t require all labs testing the THC levels of U.S. hemp to be certified by the agency during the 2020 crop year. Politico says that offers producers a little more flexibility because it will alleviate potential bottlenecks at the more limited number of labs that have the certification. Greg Ibach (EYE-baw), the Undersecretary for Marketing and Regulatory Programs, first announced the change during remarks given to the National Association of State Departments of Agriculture. The department is also planning to give states more options for disposing of “hot hemp,” which are plants with THC levels above 0.3 percent, which is the legal threshold. When the department first released its initial regulatory framework for hemp production, farmers and state regulators pointed out that some states don’t have a single lab certified by the DEA, such as Alabama. That would greatly slow down testing, which is required to happen during a 15-day window before harvest. Delays would eventually threaten the market viability of the crop.

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Consumers will Stop Buying Pork if AFS Hits the U.S.

Bill Even, CEO of the National Pork Board, says the results of consumer research have amplified the need to promote safety in the event of a large foreign animal disease outbreak. Swine Web Dot Com says at the onset of the African Swine Fever crisis in 2018, the checkoff polled consumers about their perceptions of the safety of pork. After giving consumers more information about how it’s a viral disease in pigs, not humans, and telling them it’s not a public health threat, more than half of the consumers who responded to the checkoff survey say they would stop eating pork if ASF was found in the U.S. Consumers wondered in the event of an outbreak if the public “should be eating pork.” Others asked if it should still be for sale in the store in the event of an ASF outbreak. Hispanic respondents, who tend to eat more pork than other consumer demographics, had even more concern about the ability to have pork on the shelves that’s safe for consumers to eat. Even says the checkoff, along with partners like USDA, has developed video resources for consumers that are available in case there is a disease outbreak. “Rest assured, there will be millions of dollars at the ready should we have an event occur around a foreign animal disease,” Even says.

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Fertilizer Price Volatility Began in 2002

Fertilizers are important for the nutrients they provide in the production of crops. However, their prices have been more volatile in the last six years than ever before. From 1960 through 2002, both fertilizer and crop prices received by farmers increased in tandem at a fairly modest rate. Between 2002 and 2008, annual fertilizer prices paid by farmers increased rapidly, generally at a much faster rate than the prices farmers were paid for their crops. Fertilizer prices also became more volatile over those six years. Fertilizer price increases through 2008 were largely driven by high energy prices and the record costs of natural gas, which is a basic input in producing nitrogen. In response to record fertilizer prices in 2008, farmers reduced their use of fertilizers, contributing to a decline of 18 percent in fertilizer prices through 2010. Fertilizer prices recovered through 2012, driven by strong domestic demand for plant nutrients due to high crop prices, before declining afterward. Since June of 2017, fertilizer prices and crop prices received have both trended upwards.

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Maine Representative Introduces the Ag Resilience Act

Maine Representative Chellie Pingree introduced what she calls the “Ag Resilience Act,” which she says would promote “farmer-driven climate solutions.” The bill envisions reaching a net-zero greenhouse gas emissions in U.S. agriculture by the year 2040. “Farming has always been a risky business, but unpredictable, extreme weather patterns are creating immense challenges that threaten our nation’s food production and jeopardize the livelihood of American farmers,” Pingree says. The Maine Rep has been an organic farmer for more than 40 years. “Last year, farmers were unable to plant 19.6 million acres of crops due to record-breaking rainfall,” she says. “We must be proactive to keep farmers on the land and in business.” The bill contains provisions for increasing agricultural research, improving soil health, and protecting farmland by increasing funding for the Local Agriculture Market Program and the Agriculture Conservation Easement Program. The bill was endorsed by the National Farmers Union, the American Farmland Trust, the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition, and the Union of Concerned Scientists.

SOURCE: NAFB News Service

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