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Government Confirms A Surge In Foreign Guest Workers On U.S. Farms

NPR | Posted on May 20, 2017

The numbers are out — and they confirm what we've been hearing from farmers and immigration lawyers. More and more farmers are turning to foreign "guest workers" to plant and harvest the country's crops.Farmers have to get permission from the U.S. Department of Labor to bring in foreign workers using a category of visa called H-2A. During the first three months of 2017, the Department of Labor approved applications to fill 69,272 farm jobs with workers on H-2A visas. That's up from 50,887 positions approved during same period a year ago, an increase of 36 percent.The H-2A visa program has been growing steadily in recent years, mostly because farmers have had increasing difficulty recruiting enough workers here in the U.S. Previous increases, though, ranged from 10 to 20 percent per year, far short of the big jump so far in 2017. The guest worker program has been controversial, for several reasons. Some farm worker advocates argue that employers have used the program to avoid having to attract workers the old-fashioned way, through higher wages. Temporary workers also have limited rights; they cannot leave their jobs or switch employers, and critics say it leaves them vulnerable to abuse or mistreatment. They're also separated from their families for much of the year. On the other hand, employers are required to provide free housing to H-2A workers and to pay them a fair wage, as determined by the Department of Labor. These workers also are here legally; they don't have to hide from law enforcement.

Worried About Being Deported? Get a Farm Job

Bloomberg | Posted on May 18, 2017

President Donald Trump said he would seek to keep his tough immigration enforcement policies from harming the U.S. farm industry and its largely immigrant workforce, according to farmers and officials who met with him.At a roundtable on farm labor at the White House last month, Trump said he did not want to create labor problems for farmers and would look into improving a program that brings in temporary agricultural workers on legal visas."He assured us we would have plenty of access to workers," said Zippy Duvall, president of the American Farm Bureau Federation, one of 14 participants at the April 25 meeting with Trump and Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue.During the roundtable conversation about agriculture, farmers and representatives of the sector brought up labor and immigration, the details of which have not been previously reported. Some farmers told Trump they often cannot find Americans willing to do the difficult farm jobs, according to interviews with nine of the 14 participants.They said they were worried about stricter immigration enforcement and described frustrations with the H-2A visa program, the one legal way to bring in temporary seasonal agricultural workers.The White House declined to comment on the specifics of the discussion, but described the meeting as "very productive." The U.S. Department of Agriculture did not respond to a request for comment on the April meeting.About half of U.S. crop workers are in the country illegally and more than two-thirds are foreign born, according to the most recent figures from the U.S. Department of Labor's National Agriculture Workers' Survey.During the roundtable, Luke Brubaker, a dairy farmer from Pennsylvania, described how immigration agents had recently picked up half a dozen chicken catchers working for a poultry transportation company in his county.

Perdue defends USDA reorganization plans, outlines agency priorities

Agri-Pulse | Posted on May 18, 2017

Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue vigorously defended his reorganization plan for USDA, saying it would enable the department to move “quickly and nimbly” to address rural development needs, but he and aides later backed off some key descriptions. Making his first appearance before lawmakers since he took office last month, Perdue enjoyed friendly give and take, easing any concerns among House Agriculture Committee members about his reorganization proposal to create a new undersecretary for trade and eliminate the undersecretary for rural development.“We’re going to have an assistant secretary directly reporting to me that will be the go-to person” on rural issues, Perdue told Rep.  Cheri Bustos, D-Ill. “If it makes you feel better to call that person undersecretary, then enjoy that.” But after the hearing, a spokesman said the position would be an “assistant to the secretary,” not an “assistant secretary,” which is a higher level position and would require a change in statute because the current law only allows three USDA slots at the assistant level. After the hearing, Perdue told reporters he may have “misspoken” when he said the job would require Senate confirmation.Perdue told Bustos that the person in the position would have “direct access” to him “so we can move quickly and nimbly with a vision of improving rural America.” At another point in the hearing, Perdue said that eliminating the undersecretary is “in no way ... a diminishment” of the Rural Development (RD) mission area. Requiring Senate confirmation for the position would have addressed a key concern of former RD officials that the person wouldn’t lack the accountability to Congress that a Senate-approved undersecretary has.

Senate Ag Press USDA, USTR on Harmful Canada Dairy Pricing

Animal Agwired | Posted on May 18, 2017

U.S. Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry Chairman Pat Roberts, R-Kan., and Ranking Member Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., sent a letter to U.S. Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue and U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer, requesting continued engagement with the Canadian government regarding Canada’s implementation of dairy pricing changes as part of a new Canadian National Ingredients Strategy. “Since April of 2016, Canadian provinces have been modifying their pricing schemes for certain dairy products,” the Senators said. “Currently, Canadian provinces are implementing pricing changes as part of a new Canadian National Ingredients Strategy. These changes have already caused the immediate displacement of U.S. exports of ultra-filtered milk to Canada. This scheme has resulted in a loss of sales for U.S. dairy companies and farmers. The potential for further and greater injury to U.S. producers will only continue to grow if this scheme remains in place.”“We ask that you continue to engage with the Canadian government to pursue and provide detailed information on the new pricing program. In order for the trade relationship between the U.S. and Canada to function and best serve producers on both sides of the border, the U.S. must insist that Canada be transparent and open about the written policies and implementation of these programs.”

What is the impact on the most vulnerable rural people?

Daily Yonder | Posted on May 18, 2017

The other shoe dropped yesterday when Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue said he plans to eliminate the leadership position of Undersecretary of Rural Development. The reorganization follows President Trump’s earlier budget proposal recommending a 21% cut in USDA discretionary spending and the elimination of some rural development programs. The undersecretary position, which was structurally part of the Ag secretary’s executive leadership team, oversees dozens of programs. These include loans and grants for housing, water and wastewater treatment facilities, broadband deployment, small business development, electric and phone cooperatives, and a wide range of other community development activities.Secretary Perdue said eliminating the Undersecretary for Rural Development will “elevate” development programs in the department because they will report directly to the secretary’s office, not through an undersecretary. A former White House policy adviser called this argument “ludicrous.”The chairman of the Senate committee that oversee Agriculture did not comment directly on the elimination of the undersecretary position but praised the reshuffling for its emphasis on foreign trade. The Ranking Member applauded the increased push for international trade but expressed “concerns” about the elimination of the undersecretary’s position.

Court OKs plan for $380M in Native American farmer lawsuit

The Sacramento Bee | Posted on May 18, 2017

An appeals court panel on Tuesday approved a lower court's plan for distributing $380 million left over from the U.S. government's loan discrimination settlement with American Indian farmers and ranchers six years ago. The decision wasn't unanimous, however, with one of the three judges arguing that Congress should have had a say. President Barack Obama's administration agreed in 2011 to pay $680 million to settle a class-action lawsuit filed in 1999 by Indian farmers who said they were denied loans for decades because of government discrimination. The lead plaintiffs were George and Marilyn Keepseagle, ranchers on the Standing Rock Indian Reservation, which straddles the North Dakota-South Dakota border. Only about half of the 10,000 expected claims came in. In April 2016, a judge approved a plan for the leftover money devised by the two sides in the lawsuit that included an additional payment of $21,275 to each claimant and about $300 million to groups that help Indians.Two of the claimants appealed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, arguing that the entire $380 million should be divvied up among the class members. A three-judge panel on Tuesday voted 2-1 to uphold the district court's finding that the plan was "fair, reasonable and adequate."

U.S., China Strike Trade Deal On Beef, Poultry And Natural Gas

NPR | Posted on May 18, 2017

China and the U.S. struck a trade deal that allows beef and natural gas exports to China. The agreement will allow U.S. companies to sell liquefied natural gas to China, which is likely to be controversial on the West coast. It was pretty much a Herculean accomplishment to get this done. This is more than has been done in the whole history of U.S.-China relations on trade. Under the agreement, China will open its market to U.S. beef importers by mid-July. Ross says American beef producers have been locked out of China's enormous market since a mad cow scare in 2003. For its part, the Trump administration will allow imports of cooked poultry from China. Ross says the Department of Agriculture believes this will not cause major harm to the U.S. poultry industry. The deal will also allow China easier access to the U.S. banking system and let American energy companies export LNG to China, most of which it currently buys from Russia.

Grower Comments on Pyrethroids Being Sought by EPA

Growing Produce | Posted on May 18, 2017

PA reopened the official comment docket regarding the preliminary ecological risk assessment for the pyrethroid class of insecticides today. It will remain open until July 7. Pesticide industry experts note that grower comments are needed to ensure that EPA understands the importance of these pest control tools and that it has the most up-to-date use information to consider in its assessment.Food crops including almonds, apples, tomatoes, and citrus, as well as feed crops including corn, soybean, and alfalfa, are among the 120 crops nationwide protected from pests because of bifenthrin (FMC; Brigade WSB, Hero, Mustang Maxx) and other pyrethroid products.One of the most high-profile uses is against spotted wing drosophila, a pest capable of devastating soft fruits. Bifenthrin is used on an estimated 70% of the nation’s raspberries.

U.S. Farm Groups Pile on Canada as Trump Eyes Trade Fairness

Drovers | Posted on May 16, 2017

U.S. President Donald Trump's criticism of the protected Canadian dairy system has emboldened American farm groups to tackle other longstanding agriculture irritants, as the countries move toward rewriting trade rules.U.S. poultry exporters, who include Tyson Foods Inc and Pilgrims Pride Corp, as well as egg sellers, are expected to seek greater access to Canada's tightly controlled market in renegotiations of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA).The United States, the world's second-biggest chicken exporter, will demand market access gains at least equal to those they would have realized under the failed Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) deal, industry groups and experts say.U.S. farmers also want changes to Canadian grain laws that automatically assign the lowest price for their wheat. Giving up expanded access is a real risk, said Robin Horel, chief executive of Canadian Poultry and Egg Processors Council, whose members include Maple Leaf Foods Inc and Cargill Ltd. But the industry will emphasize that despite restrictions, Canada imports more chicken, turkey and eggs from the United States than vice-versa, he said.

Proposed reorganization of USDA trades away rural development

National Sustainable Ag Coalition | Posted on May 16, 2017

On Thursday, May 11, US Department of Agriculture (USDA) Secretary Sonny Perdue announced a major reorganization of the Department; the first time the Department has undergone a significant reshuffling since 1994. The reorganization has been framed as a move toward more efficiency, effectiveness, and accountability. However, NSAC is deeply troubled by the proposal to eliminate the Rural Development Mission Area and to demote Rural Development to “office” status.In addition to creating a new Trade Undersecretary, the reorganization eliminates the Rural Development Mission Area and shifts the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), Farm Services Agency (FSA), and Risk Management Agency (RMA) under a single Farm Production and Conservation Mission Area.While the Administration has attempted to spin the demotion of Rural Development as an “elevation” – arguing that because the office would report directly to the Secretary, rural development needs will receive greater attention – it is in fact a trading away of rural, domestic priorities in favor of boosting international trade.All undersecretaries, including the Undersecretary of Rural Development, already report directly to the Secretary. In its current position as a core USDA Mission Area overseen by an undersecretary, Rural Development holds a prominent position as part of the USDA Cabinet. By demoting Rural Development to simply an “office” under the Secretary, it will lose its Cabinet-level status and the decision-making power that comes with being categorized as a USDA mission area. Moreover, the Rural Development Mission Area is huge with many decisions to make on a daily basis, and to assume that the limited number of overworked staff in the Secretary’s office will be better positioned to make and act on these decisions is questionable at best.