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Minnesota farmers consider asking for government help as trade war worsens downturn that started years ago

Minnesota Star Tribune | Posted on September 10, 2018

The escalating trade war is imposing new burdens on Minnesota’s vast and economically important agricultural sector. Farmers have already endured almost five years of marginal profits as they produced record volumes in summer after summer of good weather. Now, the trade war appears likely to tip them from small profits to sizable losses. Many are reluctantly preparing to take what they consider a distasteful step: turning to the government for help. Last Tuesday, the U.S. Department of Agriculture started accepting farmer applications for $4.7 billion in emergency aid aimed at helping them through this year. But the market is already signaling danger for 2019. Bankers who provide capital to farmers won’t stand for losses and, instead, will likely force many farmers to sit on the sidelines. As many as 20 percent of farmers in the Upper Midwest won’t be able to get credit to finance spring planting, barring a miracle turnaround in prices, said Al Kluis, a commodity broker in Wayzata. Farmers have lost big foreign markets like China and Mexico, which placed taxes on their products after Trump imposed tariffs on steel imports and pushed to recraft other trade deals. As a short-term response, the Trump administration responded by creating the aid program.

Trump’s Fight With Canada Over Nafta Faces New Hurdles

Bloomberg | Posted on September 6, 2018

President Donald Trump’s effort to force Canada into signing on to a new Nafta on his terms is facing new hurdles thanks to growing opposition at home to his threat to proceed without the U.S.’s northern neighbor. Trump’s frustration spilled into the open over the weekend as he railed against Canada on Twitter -- as well as its many supporters in both political parties. The president has threatened to leave Canada out of a new trade deal already negotiated with Mexico, but without congressional support he lacks leverage to force Ottawa to make concessions.

USDA to Implement Regulatory Reforms to Increase Access to Capital in Rural Areas

USDA | Posted on September 6, 2018

Assistant to the Secretary for Rural Development Anne Hazlett today announced that USDA is hosting listening sessions to solicit feedback on a plan to increase access to capital in rural areas by streamlining regulations for four Rural Development loan guarantee programs. “At USDA, we know that for many rural communities the regulations that govern our programs can be outdated and difficult to navigate,” Hazlett said. “Under the leadership of Agriculture Secretary Perdue, USDA is committed to simplifying our regulations and streamlining our program resources so we can be a better partner to rural leaders in building prosperity.”The changes will simplify the application process for four Rural Development loan guarantee programs that provide funding to start, improve and expand businesses and build critical infrastructure. They also will incorporate modern lending practices, accelerate the loan approval processes and increase the amount of capital available in rural communities. The programs are the Community Facilities Guaranteed Loan Program, the Water and Waste Disposal Guaranteed Loan Program, the Business and Industry Loan Guarantee Program and the Rural Energy for America Program

USDA Encourages Rural Communities, Water Districts to Apply for Loans to Improve, Rebuild Infrastructure

USDA | Posted on September 6, 2018

Assistant to the Secretary for Rural Development Anne Hazlett today announced a historic commitment by the U.S. Department of Agriculture to upgrade and rebuild rural water infrastructure. “USDA is committed to being a strong partner to rural communities in building their futures,” Hazlett said. “All people – regardless of their zip code – need modern, reliable infrastructure to thrive, and we have found that when we address this need, many other challenges in rural places become much more manageable.”Eligible rural communities and water districts can apply online for funding to maintain, modernize or build water and wastewater systems. They can visit the interactive RD Apply tool, or they can apply through one of USDA Rural Development’s state or field offices.

USDA Launches Webpage Highlighting Resources to Help Rural Communities Bridge the Broadband e-Connectivity Infrastructure Gap

USDA | Posted on September 6, 2018

U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue today unveiled a new webpage featuring information about the importance of rural e-Connectivity and the ways the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) is investing to help deploy high-speed broadband infrastructure in rural America. “Rural high-speed broadband e-Connectivity is as important for economic development as rail, roads, bridges and airports – and as vital as the buildouts of rural telephone networks were decades ago,” Perdue said. “USDA is committed to being a strong partner with rural leaders in deploying this essential infrastructure.”Reliable and affordable high-speed internet e-Connectivity acts as a catalyst for rural prosperity by enabling efficient, modern communications between rural American households, farms, ranches, businesses, schools and health care centers. Yet, according to the Federal Communications Commission, 80 percent of the 24 million Americans who lack broadband access live in rural areas and on tribal lands.USDA plays an important role in helping rural communities bridge this infrastructure gap through program investment, strategic partnerships and best practice implementation by investing in rural telecommunications infrastructure. This new website will provide direct access to information on our decades-long programs that offer more than $700 million per year for modern broadband e-Connectivity in rural communities. In the coming months, USDA will almost double these longstanding programs with an additional $600 million to expand rural broadband infrastructure in unserved rural areas and tribal lands.

Trump promised farmers ‘smarter’ trade deals. Now he has to bail them out.

The Washington Post | Posted on September 6, 2018

“Trade, not aid.” That’s what farmers, ranchers and their elected officials keep telling the Trump administration they want. They have worked hard over the years to grow their export opportunities, forging critical relationships in China, Mexico, the European Union, Canada and other markets. Customers around the world have gobbled up U.S.-produced pork, soybeans, fruits and other goods.Yet in a matter of months, President Trump has managed to fray — and possibly sever — many of those ties.For bogus “national security” reasons, among other rationales, he has provoked nearly every one of our major trading partners into slapping retaliatory tariffs on tens of billions of dollars’ worth of American-made agricultural products.

FDA expands Third-Party Certification program

Daily Intake Blog | Posted on September 6, 2018

The Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) established the Accredited Third-Party Certification Program, which is a voluntary program that allows “accreditation bodies” to apply for recognition by FDA. Recognized accreditation bodies have the authority to accredit third-party “certification bodies,” otherwise known as third-party auditors. In turn, the certification bodies (1) conduct consultative and/or regulatory food safety audits and (2) issue certifications to eligible entities that produce food for humans and animals. As previously mentioned on this blog, FDA has recognized four accreditation bodies, ANSI-ASQ National Accreditation Board (ANAB), the American National Standards Institute (ANSI), the National Bureau of Agricultural Commodity and Food Standards (ACFS), and the International Accreditation Services, Inc. (IAS) to assess and accredit certification bodies.Today, FDA notified stakeholders of the recently expanded scope of ANAB’s recognition under the voluntary Accredited Third Party Certification Program. 

From Hawaii to Vermont, States Tackle Efficiency Standards

National Research Defense Council | Posted on September 6, 2018

With the Trump administration slowing progress on energy-saving efficiency standards for appliances, equipment, and electronics that save Americans billions of dollars, states are stepping in to try to fill the gap. So far this year, five states have introduced efficiency standards bills and one—Vermont—passed the bill into law. Vermont joins California as a leadership state with a comprehensive suite of state-level energy efficiency standards. Now that legislative sessions have concluded for the year in many states, here’s a look at what happened and where we could be headed in 2019.The federal appliance standards program sets the minimum energy consumption levels for most of the appliances, equipment, and electronics we use every day. But the federal government isn’t the only player in this space – some states have been setting their own standards since the 1970s for products sold in their states and continue to do so today.Over the past decade or so the federal government has done most of the heavy lifting on efficiency standards, which both we and equipment manufacturers prefer. Advocates like a national standard because it guarantees savings in every state in the country, and it’s easier for manufacturers to comply with one nationwide standard than a patchwork of state standards. The Trump administration has signaled a very different view of standards. While we’re going to keep fighting to protect and preserve national standards and the trillions of dollars in savings for consumers, states can help lead the way by pushing forward standards for additional products.

3 reasons to support farm bill’s nutrition provisions

The Farmer | Posted on September 6, 2018

Proposed changes to the farm bill nutrition title threaten to hang up the conference committee. So, it is as important as ever for farm groups to band with their partners in the nutrition community in calling on Congress to protect the integrity of the consumer food safety net.For organizations such as ours, National Farmers Union and Mazon: A Jewish Response to Hunger, there is little to commend in the House version of the farm bill, which was broadly condemned by progressive ag groups, conservationists and anti-hunger advocates. [“Mazon” is the Hebrew word for “food” or “sustenance.”] For those of us who are deeply concerned about the integrity of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and would like to get a strong farm bill passed into law, our message is clear: The conference committee must adopt the Senate’s nutrition provisions and reject the House position.There are three reasons why ag groups should support upholding the integrity of the farm bill’s nutrition title: policy, process and politics.There are three reasons why ag groups should support upholding the integrity of the farm bill’s nutrition title: policy, process and politics.The bill contains changes that will cause millions of Americans in low-income households to lose their benefits, or have them significantly reduced. Many of these Americans live in rural communities and small towns, where a higher percentage of households (16%) rely on SNAP than in urban areas (13%).The second reason is that the House bill is the product of a flawed process. In contrast to the Senate bill, the House bill was a purely partisan exercise.Which brings us to the third reason that agricultural groups should reject major changes to the nutrition title: the politics of getting a unified farm bill passed in both chambers.

While lawmakers laud compromise, Trump urges SNAP work requirements

The Food & Environment Reporting Network | Posted on September 6, 2018

Farm bill negotiators spoke smilingly of comity and compromise while budging not an inch on major issues such as SNAP work requirements on Wednesday during their first, and possibly last, public meeting. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, after wryly saying, “I can’t remember the last time I appointed myself to a conference,” told his fellow negotiators that if they fail to enact the farm bill before the Sept. 30 expiration of the current law, it will be “a bipartisan failure of extraordinary notice to our farmers and ranchers.” President Trump called for stronger SNAP work requirements in the bill. House Agriculture chairman Michael Conaway, who called for more money for farm subsidies, said compromise on the farm bill was within reach. “Even on SNAP, I have repeatedly stressed that we are willing and able to come to consensus with the Senate.” However, a string of House Republicans continue to insist that more stringent work requirements are the proper choice.“Frankly, a lot of compromise remains to be done,” said Senate Agriculture chairman Pat Roberts, who is the leader of the 56 House and Senate negotiators. In an opening statement, he said, “Getting a farm bill done is paramount to many other issues and concerns.”