A week in American agriculture

The 2014 Farm Bill expires at the end of the month. Farm income is plummeting, Trump's tariffs are playing hell with export markets, the Canadians don't seem to be budging on dairy protections, the Honey bee population continues to decline. Farm groups are crying for more of the same kind of insurance on crops and income inaugurated as the basis of the 2014 Farm Bill. Practically speaking, this means -- whatever lip service and the few tossed millions in the direction of young and beginning farmers -- this tightens the grip of corporate agribusiness over the entire "industry" of agriculture. Meanwhile, Republicans are bellyaching about the SNAP program and want to cut it back farther. 
Morning Agriculture 
Ryan McCrimmon , Helena Bottemiller Evichmorningagriculture@politico.com


EUROPE CAN'T REPLACE CHINA AS U.S. SOY BUYER: American farmers are now supplying more than half of the European Union's soybeans, according to new 
figures the European Commission released Thursday. Over 12 weeks from July through mid-September, U.S. soy exports to the EU were 133 percent higher than during the same period last year. The U.S. accounted for 52 percent of all EU soybean imports, compared with 25 percent over the same period in 2017.
Here's the catch: While the increase in European imports provides some real help to farmers, it doesn't come close to replacing the business with China that U.S. soybean growers have lost due to retaliatory tariffs. The U.S. exported about $587 million worth of soybeans to Europe over the 12-week period, which is roughly $2.5 billion on an annualized basis. China, the world's largest importer of soybeans, bought up $12.3 billion worth of U.S. soybeans in 2017 — that's 60 percent of all U.S. soy exports.
Those sales have dried up since China imposed a 25 percent retaliatory duty on soybeans and a host of other U.S. agricultural exports in July. The price of soybeans has plummeted about $2 per bushel, or 20 percent, since June — making them "very attractive" to European buyers, the European Commission noted in Thursday's announcement. USDA projects agricultural exports to China will drop by $7 billion in the fiscal year starting Oct. 1 "as soybean sales are expected to be sharply lower due to retaliatory tariffs."
The EU figures show that the U.S. has now supplanted Brazil as Europe's top soy supplier, at the same time that Brazilian soy exports have swept into the Chinese market amid the U.S.-China trade spat. But even the increased sales to Europe don't go as far because of slumping U.S. soy prices.
Partial offset: "Europe is a sizable market, so growth (hopefully sustained) helps," Chad Hart, an associate economics professor at Iowa State University, said in an email. "But compared to China, this is only a partial offset."
And the trade war shows no signs of easing. China announced on Tuesday that it would place tariffs on another $60 billion worth of U.S. goods next week, shortly after President Donald Trump gave the go-ahead for new tariffs on $200 billion in Chinese imports. The American Soybean Association said Thursday it was "highly concerned" about the latest escalation.
Still, the EU uptick offers at least some relief for soy growers. And it's something Trump can call a win, after he and European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker agreed in July that the EU would ramp up purchases of U.S. soybeans and other commodities.
"Any gains in soybean trade are significant right now, given the free fall soybean prices have been in," Hart said.
POLITICO's Sarah Zimmerman has more on the EU's soybean-buying spree. And a hat tip to our colleagues at POLITICO Brussels Playbook who first reported the stats.
HAPPY FRIDAY, SEPT. 21! Welcome to Morning Ag, where your host sees that Florida man is at it again. Let's hope this home grower's natural gardening style doesn't go industry-wide. Send your tips and thoughts to rmccrimmon@politico.com or @ryanmccrimmon, and follow the whole team @Morning_Ag.
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USDA ALUMS ASK CONGRESS TO HALT ERS, NIFA MOVES: A bipartisan trio of former top USDA research officials joined forces during a webinar on Thursday to deliver a unified message for Congress: Stop USDA from moving the Economic Research Service and the National Institute of Food and Agriculture — at least for now, reports Pro Ag's Helena Bottemiller Evich.
The officials, whose tenures spanned the Clinton, George W. Bush and Obama administrations, said lawmakers should hold oversight hearings and halt the planned moves until a review can be conducted by an outside entity, such as the GAO. They want Congress to either put language in next year's spending bill or consider whether language is needed in the farm bill.
Level of support is questioned: "I'm deeply concerned," Gale Buchanan, who served as undersecretary for research, education, and economics during the George W. Bush administration, said during the webinar, which the American Statistical Association hosted. He added: "I've yet to find anyone who thinks this is a good idea who's been involved in the system." Buchanan was joined by a fellow former REE undersecretary, Catherine Woteki, and former ERS Administrator Susan Offutt.
USDA defends move: Deputy Agriculture Secretary Stephen Censky, who participated in the webinar during the latter part of the discussion, defended the administration's plans. He said both the planned relocation of the agencies and the repositioning of ERS from the department's research arm to the Office of the Chief Economist are "in no way" meant to "diminish or minimize their roles."
"We recognize how important these agencies are," Censky said. Pros can read Helena's story here.
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FOR CONSERVATIVES, IT'S WORK REQUIREMENTS OR A FARM BILL BUST: Conservative groups advocating for trimming social safety net programs held a call Thursday urging farm bill negotiators to go with the House's work requirements for SNAP recipients.
The call comes as House and Senate agriculture leaders are struggling to reach agreement on major portions of the farm bill, including on SNAP policy, which has long been considered the toughest piece of the puzzle. Current law expires Sept. 30 and it now seems unlikely Congress will get a deal done in time.
What is the compromise? Senate Agriculture leaders have been clear for months: Stricter work requirements cannot garner the 60 votes needed to pass a farm bill in the Senate, but conservatives on Thursday reiterated they won't accept one without more work requirements. The call included experts from The Heritage Foundation, the American Enterprise Institute and the Foundation for Government Accountability, as well as state leaders from Texas and Kansas.
"From our understanding, the Senate has been intransigent about making a compromise," said Jason Turner, executive director of Secretaries' Innovation Group, which represents conservative state officials who administer SNAP and other social aid programs. Asked what a compromise would look like if it doesn't include stricter work requirements, Turner responded: "There's other things that can be done, but they wouldn't be sufficient to call for an agreement."
More SNAP chatter this week: House Agriculture member Rodney Davis (R-Ill.) told an Illinois newspaper that there aren't enough GOP votes in the House to pass a farm bill that doesn't make changes to the program. Here's the Herald & Review's write-up of its interview with Davis, including plenty more on SNAP.
HURRICANE PAIN FOR SOUTH CAROLINA CROP GROWERS: South Carolina hasn't received the same attention in the wake of Hurricane Florence as its northern neighbor, where dozens of bacteria-filled swine lagoons have been swamped, ruptured or spilled their contents over the side. But its agriculture sector was also hit hard by the storm that swept through the state last week.
Sizing up the devastation: South Carolina Agriculture Commissioner Hugh Weathers has pegged the crop damage at somewhere between $50 million and $330 million. Initial engagement with growers, he said, showed that crops that were closest to harvest suffered the most damage.
"Depending on the crop, the damage ranges from pretty severe to we have to wait and see," Weathers told CNBC on Wednesday, describing the ravaged peanut, cotton and soybean fields that he's seen. Some peanut farmers won't be able to access their rain-soaked fields with heavy equipment when it's time to harvest.
"While he [might have] a great crop potential, he won't be able to harvest it," he said of peanut farmers. Soybeans that were 30 to 40 days from harvest might be OK, for example, while cotton that was already set to be harvested had been blown down in the storm, he added.
How much relief will be needed? Gov. Henry McMaster said Thursday that his state could need at least $1.2 billion in federal aid to rebuild and recover from Florence, including $125 million for ag programs and another $165 million from the National Flood Insurance Program, as Pro Budget's Sarah Ferris reported.
USDA stepped in to offer financial assistance for South Carolina farmers and ranchers who lost livestock during the storm and need to dispose of carcasses. The department also loosened certain SNAP rules so that residents who lost food due to flooding or power outages now have until Oct. 15 to report their losses and use the program benefits to replace the food.
VA GOV TO TALK FOOD POLICY: Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam is planning to make his first significant food policy speech on Monday morning in Washington at the Chesapeake Food Summit, a regional food and ag conference being held at Union Market.
The lineup for the confab extends beyond traditional ag voices like Perdue Farms and Land O'Lakes, with reps from Kaiser Permanente, Goldman Sachs, Honest Tea and DC Central Kitchen. Also on tap: Members of the newly formed Sustainable Food Policy Alliance (from Mars and Danone North America) will be speaking about how to build a better food system.
— NAFTA waiting game continues: Canadian Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland returned to Canada Thursday night after U.S.-Canada trade talks once again failed to deliver a breakthrough. She stopped short of using the word "progress" when discussing the status of the talks. In fact, she hasn't used that word following recent meetings with U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer. When asked Thursday why that is, she said: "I chose my words carefully. Today we discussed some tough issues. The conversation was constructive." Pro Trade's Sabrina Rodriguez has more.
— What sticking points are left? You guessed it: The dispute over U.S. access to Canada's dairy markets is still among the unresolved issues. Mexico's chief NAFTA negotiator, Kenneth Smith Ramos, said at a trade conference in Mexico City that two other outstanding issues are Canada's push to preserve the existing "Chapter 19" dispute settlement mechanism and U.S. efforts to reduce Canadian companies' ability to procure U.S. government contracts, our Pro Trade colleagues tell us.
— EPA posts RFS exemption info online: The agency on Thursday launched a new website to track exemptions under the Renewable Fuel Standard, fulfilling a promise that acting EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler made during his confirmation hearing. The site will include additional info about the RFS, such as monthly data on biofuels credit trading volumes and renewable fuel production. Perdue backed the move. Pro Energy's Eric Wolff has more.
— Trump reiterates shutdown threats: The president tweeted Thursday that he's not pleased with a large and "ridiculous" spending package lawmakers are likely to send his way next week because it doesn't include money for his promised U.S.-Mexico border wall. The bill includes a continuing resolution, which is needed to avoid a shutdown at certain agencies on Oct. 1. POLITICO's Rachael Bade explains the renewed shutdown chatter.
— A GoFundMe for Wisconsin dairy farmers: If you needed more proof that U.S. ag producers are really hurting from low commodity prices, here it is: There are more than 2,500 dairy farmers using the crowdfunding website to raise money to offset their losses. One organic dairy farmer in Springbrook, Wis., said she raised more than $165,500 to save her farm less than a week before the foreclosure auction. Here's the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel story.
— Controversial eating-behavior scientist out at Cornell: Brian Wansink, the eating-behavior researcher at Cornell University whose work has been under investigation since November amid allegations of academic misconduct, will resign from his post at the end of the academic year in June, BuzzFeed reports. More on the Wansink saga here.
— USDA résumés, ethics waivers posted: The nonprofit American Oversight has obtained and released a large quantity of personnel records for political appointees at USDA, including résumés and ethics waivers. Find the trove online here.
— Cargill ground beef recalled over E. coli: Colorado-based Cargill Meat Solutions is recalling about 133,000 pounds of ground beef products that could be contaminated with E. coli. USDA's Food Safety and Inspection Service and other agencies determined that raw ground beef was the likely cause of 17 illnesses and one death. Twelve products produced and packaged on June 21 were recalled, USDA announced. The Indianapolis Star has more here.
THAT'S ALL FOR MA! Have a great weekend — we'll see you back here on Monday. In the meantime, drop your host and the rest of the team a line: rmccrimmon@politico.com and @ryanmccrimmoncboudreau@politico.comand @ceboudreauhbottemiller@politico.com and @hbottemillerlcrampton@politico.com and @liz_cramptonsrodriguez@politico.com and @sabrod123jlauinger@politico.com and @jmlauinger; and pjoshi@politico.comand @pjoshiny. You can also follow @POLITICOPro and @Morning_Ag on Twitter.
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Pesticide Use on California Farms at Near-Record Levels
Farmers in California, the nation’s top agricultural state, are applying near-record levels of pesticides despite the rising popularity of organic produce and concerns about the health of farmworkers and rural schoolchildren.
The latest figures, released in April by the California Department of Pesticide Regulation and covering 2016, show that 209 million pounds of pesticide active ingredients were used in agriculture. That was down 1.4 percent from the year before, but still the third-highest yearly total since the state began reporting the numbers in 1991. The record high of 215 million pounds came in 1998.
Safety advocates say the new report paints a grim picture of continuing reliance on dangerous chemicals. Pesticides classified as human carcinogens or likely human carcinogens were applied to nearly 9.2 million acres statewide in 2016. That’s more acreage than the entire land area of each of nine states.
“Communities across the San Joaquin Valley and the Central Coast are regularly … exposed to hazardous pesticides including those linked to cancer, to reproductive and developmental harm,” said Paul Towers, organizing director for the Berkeley, California-based advocacy group Pesticide Action Network North America.
“Not only these dramatic and acute quantities that are sometimes cause for concern and send folks to the hospital. But these low-level exposures, particularly in rural agricultural and suburban communities near the agricultural edge, where people are breathing, drinking, eating small amounts of pesticides on a daily basis.”
Pesticide Action Network pointed out that two of the five mostly heavily used pesticides in 2016 were the DowDupont fumigant 1,3-dichloropropene (Telone) and glyphosate, used in Monsanto’s Roundup and other pesticides. Both are on California’s Proposition 65 list of chemicals requiring warnings about risks of cancer or reproductive harm.
DowDupont did not respond to a request for comment. Monsanto said, in a written statement, “Hundreds of scientific studies over 40 years – all conducted under international standards by a wide range of scientists and regulatory agencies – have consistently concluded that glyphosate is safe and not carcinogenic.”
State officials downplayed concerns. They said the high overall volume of pesticides used by farmers partly reflects increased use of lower-risk pest killers that tend to be applied more heavily than the most dangerous chemicals. These lower-risk substances include sulfur, mineral oils and kaolin clay, all used even by organic growers.
“The types of pesticides are really what we look at,” said Charlotte Fadipe, assistant director of the state pesticide regulation department. She said the agency focuses on substances likely to harm the quality of air and groundwater.
The agency’s report said the increased use of pest killers that pose less of an environmental threat “may actually serve to reduce overall risk if they are used as alternatives to higher risk chemicals.”
State officials also noted that in 2016 use of the controversial pesticide chlorpyrifos fell below one million pounds for the first time in more than a decade. “We’re glad to see that type of stuff decreased,” Fadipe said. Pesticide Action Network also said it regarded the reduced use of chlorpyrifos as “one encouraging piece of news.”
In November 2015, the Environmental Protection Agency issued a proposed ruleto ban the use of chlorpyrifos based on possible neurodevelopmental risks to fetuses and children. But in 2017, under new EPA head Scott Pruitt, the agency reversed course and extended its review of the substance.
California, however, in December added it to the state’s Prop 65 list of chemicals. And just last week Hawaii’s legislature approved phasing out all use of chlorpyrifos by 2023.
This year, the state pesticide agency has issued a new rule requiring that growers refrain from using the most drift-prone application methods from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. on weekdays within a quarter mile of schools and daycare centers. The action follows a 2014 state Department of Public Health report showing that 9 percent of the 2,511 schools surveyed in 15 leading agricultural counties had substantial amounts of pesticides applied within a quarter mile.
The pesticide agency report found that half of the pesticides used in 2016 were applied to crops in five Central Valley counties: Fresno, Kern, Tulare, Madera and San Joaquin, where much of the nation’s almond, pistachio, grape and citrus crops are grown.
Some experts say long-term changes in the mix of items farmers produce in California, including increases in almonds and other high value crops, give the agriculture industry the incentive to use more pesticides. Such crops present “a larger economic risk if pests are not controlled,”said Brad Hanson, a weed specialist at the University of California, Davis, plant science department.
Jim Farrar, director of the University of California’s statewide integrated pest management program, added that more pesticides are needed when “you move from something like alfalfa and sorghum for dairies, where cosmetic injury isn’t a problem … to something like oranges where if there’s a blemish on the rind you get downgraded even if the orange is perfectly healthy.”



US cities that ban bee-killing pesticides



Minnesota Public Radio News
Minnesota cities to Congress: Let us help the bees
Elizabeth Dunbar ·
The new federal farm bill could force several Minnesota cities to stop banning a pesticide that can harm bee populations.
A final version of the farm bill, which would replace the one expiring at the end of September, is still under debate in a House-Senate conference committee. But the House version of the bill included a provision that would bar cities from placing stricter regulations on pesticides.
Shorewood, Eden Prairie, White Bear Lake, South St. Paul, Minneapolis, Andover, Lake Elmo, Maplewood, Mendota Heights and others have banned the use of neonicotinoid pesticides on public property following University of Minnesota research showing the pesticides can harm bees. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has also said the pesticides can harm bees in some cases.
Shorewood, located in the western Twin Cities suburbs, is among 60 cities that signed a letter, including five in Minnesota, urging congressional leaders to reject the provision in the final version of the farm bill. The letter-signing effort was organized by the environmental group Friends of the Earth.
Mayor Scott Zerby said his city banned the use of neonicotinoid pesticides on public property several years ago.
"If this was something that even had a possibility of helping the bee population survive, we thought it was a good idea," he said.
Zerby said the city has also planted clover on city parkland to help bees. He hopes those working on the farm bill will take the provision out and preserve cities' ability to pass laws that make sense for them.
"It gives residents, citizens the ability to look at their area on a very specific level, down to the smallest details and make the choices that they know best for their area. I don't think a federal government understands the complexity that's going on in our particular area, as well as the state, to some degree," he said.
The language on pesticide regulations is just one of hundreds of details in play as House and Senate negotiators work on a final farm bill that can be voted on and sent to the president.