Restrictions Ease on Export Financing For U.S. Goods & Travel to Cuba

January 28 2016 –NPPC–U.S. banks are now allowed to provide direct financing for exporting products to Cuba – the Obama administration’s latest action in normalizing U.S.-Cuban relations.  Agricultural commodities still must be paid by cash-in-advance or through third-country financing.

Under the revised rule, the U.S. Commerce Department’s Bureau of Industry and Security can approve license applications for exports and re-exports of commodities and software to Cuban human rights or non-governmental organizations or to individuals “that promote independent activity intended to strengthen civil society in Cuba.”  The bureau also can approve license applications for certain agricultural items such as commodities not eligible for a license exception, insecticides, pesticides and herbicides.

Most agricultural commodity exports to Cuba are covered under a general license, but the Commerce Department will look at any proposed sale that would contribute to the Cuban government, such as sugar.   Export financing changes allow U.S. companies to sell goods directly to Cuban state-run enterprises.  However, applications for exports and re-exports of items for use by state-owned enterprises, agencies or other organizations of the Cuban government that primarily generate revenue for the state, generally will be denied.

Other parts of the rule ease travel restrictions to Cuba.

NASS Agricultural Resource Management Survey (ARMS) Underway

The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS) will spend the next several months gathering information about production practices from farmers and ranchers across the nation through the Agricultural Resource Management Survey (ARMS). The results of this survey will serve as a primary source of information for numerous federal policies and programs that affect U.S. farms and farm families.

Accurate data is key to better decision-making. By responding to ARMS, farmers ensure that decisions impacting them are based on accurate real-life information. NASS conducts ARMS jointly with USDA’s Economic Research Service. In an effort to obtain the most accurate data, the federal agencies will reach out to about 30,000 producers nationwide between January and April 2016. The survey asks producers to provide data on their operating expenditures, production costs and household characteristics. This survey is lengthy and some producers may have questions or need clarification according to NASS.  In late January, NASS  interviewers begin reaching out to those farmers who have not yet responded to answer any questions they may have and help them fill out their questionnaires.  In addition accurate data, NASS is strongly committed to confidentiality. Information provided by respondents is confidential by law. The agency safeguards the confidentiality of all responses, ensuring no individual respondent or operation can be identified.

The economic data gathered in ARMS will be published in the annual Farm Production Expenditures report on August 1, 2016. All NASS reports are available online at www.nass.usda.gov.

Senate Fails to Overide Obama’s Veto of Resolution to Block “WOTUS” Rule

January 21, 2016, Washington DC – The Senate failed to open debate on an override of President Obama’s veto of a resolution to block the controversial Waters of the United States (WOTUS) rule by a vote of 53-40.  Under the Congressional Review Act, the resolution required 60 votes to advance.

The WOTUS regulation was proposed in April 2014, by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to clarify the agencies’ authority under the Clean Water Act (CWA) over various waters. That jurisdiction – based on several U.S. Supreme Court decisions – included “navigable” waters and waters with a significant hydrologic connection to navigable waters. The rule was broadened to include among other water bodies, upstream waters and intermittent and ephemeral streams such as the kind farmers use for drainage and irrigation. It also encompassed lands adjacent to such waters.

Last week, the House approved on a 253-168 vote the resolution sponsored by Sen. Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, that overrules the CWA regulation. The resolution passed the Senate in November by a vote of 53-44. Opponents of the WOTUS rule are pursuing a legal remedy to stop the regulation. A federal appeals court in October temporarily halted implementation of the rule, which took effect Aug. 28, 2015.  Agricultural organizations, as well as the attorneys general of nearly 30 states have brought lawsuits against the WOTUS rule. In their suit, farm groups allege, among other things, that EPA engaged in an advocacy campaign during the comment period, a violation of the federal Administrative Procedures Act.  U.S. Government Accountability Office investigation determined that the EPA illegally spent taxpayer dollars on “propaganda” and “grassroots lobbying efforts” in an effort to build support for the rule.

Vilsack Appoints Scuse Acting Deputy Secretary of Agriculture March 1st

January 21, 2016, Washington DC – Agriculture Deputy Secretary Krysta Harden announced earlier today her plans to depart the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) at the end of February 2016.  To ensure continuity of operations upon her departure, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced today that Michael Scuse, the current Under Secretary for Farm and Foreign Agricultural Services (FFAS), will serve as Acting Deputy Secretary of Agriculture. Secretary Vilsack also directed Alexis Taylor, the current Deputy Under Secretary for Farm and Foreign Agricultural Services, to assume the duties of Under Secretary for FFAS.

WOTUS Veto Harms Farmers

January 20, 2016, Washington DC–National Corn Growers Association President Chip Bowling’s statement regarding President Obama’s veto of a resolution disapproving of the Environmental Protection Agency’s new definition of “Waters of the United States” (WOTUS).

“We are disappointed in the President’s veto, especially in light of the recent GAO report that stated EPA engaged in ‘covert propaganda’ in an effort to sell the American public on this rule.  This administration continues to ignore the will of Congress and the significant impact this will have on our country’s farmers at a time when they cannot afford more regulatory,confusion and red tape.

“This resolution would have given us the opportunity to work together on a better rule we can all support. Instead, the future of WOTUS remains in the hands of the courts — which may takes months, if not years, and comes at a considerable cost.  Clean water is important to all of us.  America’s corn farmers are committed to protecting our water resources for future generations.”

Agriculture Committee Chairman K. Michael Conaway issued the following statement: “America’s farmers and ranchers are the original conservationists, and they have a vested interest in protecting our natural resources. Yet, when it comes to the regulatory agenda of the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), we are repeatedly confronted by an agency seemingly oblivious to the voluntary conservation efforts of America’s farmers and ranchers, and perhaps most alarmingly, apparently addicted to writing regulations that ignore Congressional intent, ignore the input of stakeholders – including other Federal agencies – and put our ability to produce food and fiber at risk in the U. S.   Next week, EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy will be called on to explain her agency’s decisions and discuss with members of Congress how we might work together to ensure that future actions by the EPA do not harm American agriculture.”

Hops Conference–Experts Address Challenges of Growing Hops in the Southeast

January 20, 2016- The success of the craft beer industry and interest in using locally grown ingredients has encouraged an adventuresome group of farmers in the South Atlantic region to try their hands at growing hops, but the climate here is challenging. An upcoming conference will bring experts from across the country to advise the young industry.

Organized by NC State University, Virginia Tech, Virginia State University and the Old Dominion Hops Cooperative, the South Atlantic Hops Conference is scheduled for March 4-5 at the Clarion Hotel Richmond Central in Richmond, Virginia.

“Most hops in the United States are produced in the Pacific Northwest, where the climate is well-suited to the needs of hops plants. Growing hops under the not-so-ideal conditions in the South Atlantic is challenging,” said Jeanine Davis, an extension horticultural science specialist and professor at NC State University. “The conference will kick off on Friday with commercial hop yard and brewery tours. Saturday will be a full-day conference with concurrent sessions on all aspects of growing and selling hops.”

Speakers include Ann George, executive director of the U.S. Hop Growers Association; James Altwies of Gorst Valley Hops; Dan Gridley of Farm Boy Hops; Ken Hurley, beer chemist at Virginia Tech; and Lina Quesada-Ocampo, plant pathologist at NC State University.

“There will also be panel discussions on what brewers want from local growers and buying starter hop plants,” Davis added. “Individual presentations will include growing hops in non-traditional areas, how to build a small hop yard, growing and marketing hops on a diversified farm, harvesting hops, processing hops, downy mildew control, beer chemistry, the status of the industry, new opportunities for hop growers, and updates from North Carolina and Virginia universities on their hops research.”

The conference should provide brewers and growers at all stages of production a great opportunity to network, Davis said. There will be a trade show, and lunch will be served.

For those who register by Feb. 3, the early-bird price is $80.12. Detailed information is available on Eventbrite at https://www.eventbrite.com/e/2016-south-atlantic-hops-conference-tickets-19730934757.

Secretaries of the Navy, Agriculture Launch Deployment of Great Green Fleet

First surface combatants deploy using alternative fuel made from waste beef tallow

Jan. 20, 2016 Coronado, CA – Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus and Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack kicked off the Great Green Fleet with the deployment of the USS John C. Stennis Carrier Strike Group (JCS CSG) during a ceremony at Naval Air Station North Island.

The Great Green Fleet is a Department of the Navy initiative highlighting how the Navy and Marine Corps are using energy efficiency and alternative energy to increase combat capability and operational flexibility. At the close of the ceremony, the Arleigh Burke-class guided missile destroyer USS Stockdale (DDG 106) left the pier to begin its deployment, becoming the first U.S. Navy ship running on an alternative fuel blend as part of its regular operations.

“When it comes to power, my focus has been about one thing and one thing only: better warfighting,” said Mabus. “The Great Green Fleet shows how we are transforming our energy use to make us better warfighters, to go farther, stay longer, and deliver more firepower. In short, to enable us to provide the global presence that is our mission.”

The blend fueling the JCS CSG’s surface ships contains alternative fuel made from waste beef fat provided by farmers in the Midwest. It was purchased at a cost-competitive price through a partnership between the Department of the Navy and U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) aimed at making alternative fuel blends a regular part of the military’s bulk operational fuel supply.

With the USS John C. Stennis (CVN 74) and Stockdale in the background, Mabus and Vilsack explained why this milestone alternative fuel purchase is important to the Navy and Marine Corps, and how it supports America’s farmers, ranchers and rural manufacturing jobs.

Secretary Mabus said “Diversifying our energy sources arms us with operational flexibility and strengthens our ability to provide presence, turning the tables on those who would use energy as a weapon against us.”

“The Navy’s use of renewable energy in the Great Green Fleet represents its ability to diversify its energy sources, and also our nation’s ability to take what would be a waste product and create homegrown, clean, advanced biofuels to support a variety of transportation needs,” said Secretary Vilsack. “Today’s deployment proves that America is on its way to a secure, clean energy future, where both defense and commercial transportation can be fueled by our own hardworking farmers and ranchers, reduce landfill waste, and bring manufacturing jobs back to rural America.”

JCS CSG, the centerpiece of the Great Green Fleet, deployed using energy conservation measures (ECMs), including stern flaps, LED lights, and energy efficient operational procedures, and alternative fuel in the course of its normal operations. Other ships, aircraft, amphibious and expeditionary forces, and shore installations using ECMs and/or alternative fuels in the course of performing planned mission functions will be part of the Great Green Fleet throughout 2016.

Stockdale is the first surface combatant to receive alternative fuel as part of its regular operational supply. Following the ceremony, Secretary Mabus and Secretary Vilsack flew out to the destroyer USS William P. Lawrence (DDG 110) to witness it replenishing its tanks with alternative fuel from fleet replenishment oiler USNS Guadalupe (T-AO 200). The remainder of the CSG’s surface ships will receive fuel from fast combat support ship USNS Rainier (T-AOE 7), which will take on over three million gallons of the alternative fuel blend in Washington state before joining the CSG on deployment.

The advanced fuel blend was produced by California-based AltAir Fuels from a feedstock of beef tallow – waste beef fat – provided by Midwest farmers and ranchers, and traditional petroleum provided by Tesoro. Pursuant to Navy requirements, the alternative fuel is drop-in, meaning it requires no changes to ship engines, transport or delivery equipment, or operational procedures. The Defense Logistics Agency awarded a contract to AltAir Fuels for 77.6 million gallons of the alternative fuel blend, at a cost to DLA of $2.05 per gallon, making it cost competitive with traditional fuel.

Through the Commodity Credit Corporation, USDA is able to partner with the Navy to help diversify its fuel supply and simultaneously support America’s own farmers, ranchers and rural economies.

Carrier Air Wing (CVW) 9, guided-missile cruiser USS Mobile Bay (CG 53), and guided-missile destroyers USS Stockdale, USS William P. Lawrence (DDG 110), and USS Chung-Hoon (DDG 93) are part of the JCS CSG.

Sailing the Great Green Fleet in 2016 was one of the five energy goals Sec. Mabus set in 2009 for the Navy and Marine Corps. It was named to honor President Theodore Roosevelt’s Great White Fleet, which helped usher in America as a global power on the world stage at the beginning of the 20th Century. The GGF will usher in the next era of Navy and Marine Corp energy innovation.

USDA Expands Microloans to Help Farmers Purchase Farmland and Improve Property

Producers, Including Beginning and Underserved Farmers, Have a New Option to Gain Access to Land

January 19, 2016, Washington DC— Agriculture Deputy Secretary Krysta Harden today announced that the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) will begin offering farm ownership microloans, creating a new financing avenue for farmers to buy and improve property. These microloans will be especially helpful to beginning or underserved farmers, U.S. veterans looking for a career in farming, and those who have small and mid-sized farming operations.

“Many producers, especially new and underserved farmers, tell us that access to land is one of the biggest challenges they face in establishing and growing their own farming operation,” said Harden. “USDA is making it easier for new farmers to hit the ground running and get access to the land that they need to establish their farms or improve their property.”

The microloan program, which celebrates its third anniversary this week, has been hugely successful, providing more than 16,800 low-interest loans, totaling over $373 million to producers across the country. Microloans have helped farmers and ranchers with operating costs, such as feed, fertilizer, tools, fencing, equipment, and living expenses since 2013. Seventy percent of loans have gone to new farmers.

Now, microloans will be available to also help with farm land and building purchases, and soil and water conservation improvements. FSA designed the expanded program to simplify the application process, expand eligibility requirements and expedite smaller real estate loans to help farmers strengthen their operations. Microloans provide up to $50,000 to qualified producers, and can be issued to the applicant directly from the USDA Farm Service Agency (FSA).

This microloan announcement is another USDA resource for America’s farmers and ranchers to utilize, especially as new and beginning farmers and ranchers look for the assistance they need to get started. To learn more about the FSA microloan program visit www.fsa.usda.gov/microloans, or contact your local FSA office. To find your nearest office location, please visit http://offices.usda.gov.

House Passes Resolution to Disapprove WOTUS Rule

January 13, 2016 Washington DC -Today, the House passed a joint resolution to disapprove the Waters of the United States rule under a Congressional Review Act. This resolution would nullify the rule submitted by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to redefine “waters of the United States” under the Clean Water Act.

“Today’s passage of this resolution is a critical step toward stopping what some believe to be the largest federal land grab in history. From the beginning, the process of developing this rule was flawed by EPA ignoring input from stakeholders, and even other agencies including the Army Corps of Engineers. American’s farmers and ranchers deserve to have a government that will review and consider their thoughts,” said Chairman K. Michael Conaway.

Floor Statement by Chairman Conaway in support of resolution to disapprove the Waters of the United States rule

Today, House Agriculture Committee Chairman K. Michael Conaway delivered remarks on the House floor in favor of S.J. Res. 22, a resolution to disapprove the Waters of the United States rule.

Remarks as prepared for delivery:

“I rise today in strong support of S.J. Res. 22, a resolution to disapprove the Waters of the United States rule – a rule that amounts to a massive overreach by the Obama Administration’s EPA.

“This rule and the process in which EPA developed it ignored stakeholders, ignored states, and as reports have shown, even ignored concerns from the Army Corps of Engineers, the Federal agency that was supposed to be co-developing the rule.

“Through hearings, letters, and public forums, we repeatedly asked the Administration to start over with a process that works with stakeholders to achieve the goals of the Clean Water Act rather than act like a schoolyard bully. We all want clean water, and we can and should work together to achieve it.

“Unfortunately, all of these requests fell on deaf ears, and the Administration, in what has become an all too common pattern, moved forward to ram this rule through with little regard to the comments or concerns of Americans.

“The final rule ignores the spirit and intent of the law in that EPA has claimed Federal jurisdiction over essentially any body of water such as a farm pond, or even a ditch that is dry for most of the year.

“America’s farmers and ranchers deserve a government that will review and consider their thoughts, not a government that refuses to engage stakeholders and hands down orders from on high.

“The process of developing this rule was flawed from the get go, and the final product was right on par with an Administration that wants to impose its authoritarian will on every inch of this great land.

“That is why the House voted overwhelmingly in favor of H.R. 1732, the Regulatory Integrity Protection Act of 2015.

“That is why I stand before you today to ask your support of S.J. Res. 22.

“Americans deserve better.”