National Association of Wheat Growers

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NAWG Weekly Update 7/21/16



NAWG Weekly Update July 14, 2016



Senate Comes Through to Heed Consumers’ Loud Calls for a National GMO Labeling Standard


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Chandler Goule Starts at NAWG
New NAWG CEO Chandler Goule began his tenure at NAWG this week, with July 5 as his first day. Since finishing at National Farmers Union, where he was Senior Vice President of Programs, Chandler took a well-deserved vacation before diving in at NAWG to start his work in developing and maintaining industry relations, acting as Executive Director of the National Wheat Foundation, and leading NAWG’s advocacy for wheat growers. The NAWG office and board are excited to start working with Chandler and are glad to welcome him to the team.

NAWG Seeks Competitive Growers
Innovation and efficiency, it’s the future! For the first time in 20 years NAWG is putting on the National Wheat Yield Contest and is encouraging the nation’s producers to sign up online by the spring wheat sector deadline of August 1. The goals of this national contest are raising public interest within the industry, as well as encouraging producers to spread new methodologies and technologies for achieving maximally yielding results. The contest will also help to ensure a high quality supply of wheat to meet domestic and international demands. Entries for the spring wheat sector are due August 1 and the winner will be announced in the fall of 2016 and given the opportunity to attend the 2017 Commodity Classic in San Antonio, Texas as the guest of the National Wheat Foundation. Sign up here.

House Deals With Cuba Amendments to Financial Services Appropriations Bill
This week, the House of Representatives considered the FY 2017 Financial Services Appropriations bill. Consideration was scheduled for earlier in June but was delayed due to the Democratic-Republican conflict over gun control regulations. During consideration this week, there was an amendment from Rep. Rick Crawford (R-AR) that was made in order that would lift the current financing restrictions which prohibit the United States from financing agricultural product sales to Cuba. Cuba is a very relevant target market for the wheat industry, with an average of 30 million bushels imported annually, making the country the largest market in the Caribbean for wheat.

During consideration, Rep. Crawford pulled the amendment from floor consideration after an informal agreement was reached whereby the primary opponents of expanding trade with Cuba in the House would work with Rep. Crawford and other proponents on finding a path forward for authorizing legislation that would ease the financing restrictions.

NAWG is highly supportive of efforts to liberalize trade with Cuba, and believes that doing so will allow the United States to take advantage of our ideal geographical location to Cuba. Moving forward, NAWG will continue to work with other members of the U.S. Ag Coalition for Cuba and our champions on the Hill, to move the needle on the Cuba trade relations debate.

Senate Gears Up for Their Final GMO Vote
Following the cloture vote yesterday, the U.S. Senate is expected to vote tonight on the GMO labeling agreement that has come forth from Senate Agricultural Committee Chairman Pat Roberts and Ranking Member Debbie Stabenow. Yesterday the Senate took a cloture vote that ended in support by a 65-32 vote. Today’s final vote also needs 60 votes to pass.This proposal will allow various options to label biotech on consumer products. This legislation will ensure that safe and affordable technologies like biotech are protected from stigmatization from vilifying symbols. The Vermont law would allow for the development of other state labeling laws, resulting in a patchwork of inefficient and costly state laws that would increase costs for producers and consumers alike. The Roberts-Stabenow agreement will provide consumers with the information that they want about their food, while protecting their interests as consumers and ensuring that they will have safe and affordable food. Because of this, it is very important Senators hear what farmers are telling them, and vote to protect producers. Please contact your members, and urge others to do the same, and voice your opinion in support of this bill.

NAWG Supports Senator’s Letter to EPA Regarding RFS Proposed Rule
In reaction to the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) proposed rule setting blending targets under the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) for 2017, 39 Senators signed a letter to the EPA, urging them to protect the U.S. biofuel sector and economic opportunities by setting the blending targets at levels set by Congress. The RFS adopted in 2005, and expanded in 2007, was meant to implement a stable policy to promote innovation and investment in renewable fuels that will maximize biorefining capacity and distribution infrastructure to ensure access to biofuels for American consumers. This policy has since then produced hundreds of millions of dollars of investment in biofuels, leading to expanded production capacity of biofuels, the creation of hundreds of thousands of jobs, the reduction of the environmental impact of the transportation and energy sectors, and benefit to the agriculture economy. The EPA now has proposed to reduce the 2017 Renewable Volume Obligation (RVO) under the RFS, which would send the wrong market signals and impact agricultural markets and investment in new technology, as well as cellulosic biofuels production. It is imperative that continued investment in biofuels is prioritized, as rural, agricultural communities will be impacted the hardest by a reduction in the proposed RVO. NAWG supports the RFS the way Congress passed it, and opposes the EPA’s proposed reduction. NAWG urges the EPA to thoroughly review the proposed 2017 RVO requirements and maintain the RFS as passed by Congress. EPA is accepting public comments on the 2017 RVO proposal through Monday, July 11.

House Votes to Pass Global Food Security Act, Now On to President’s Desk
This week, the House voted overwhelmingly (369-53) to pass the Global Food Security Act, which will authorize a $1 billion-a-year global program, known as Feed the Future, to address poverty and hunger by aiding farmers in poor countries. The Act passed the Senate in April, and has now garnered bipartisan support in the House. This development initiative will help continue to increase economic growth in countries with poor infrastructure to facilitate food security, and ensure that farmers in developing countries have the tools necessary to achieve self-sufficiency through agricultural development. The Act will require the administration to develop a whole-of-government plan for addressing food insecurity, while emphasizing agricultural development in rural communities. The Act will also secure the Emergency Food Security Program, which will be authorized to respond to emergency food needs of communities challenged by natural or manmade disasters, without threatening the food aid programs authorized by the farm bill, such as Food for Peace. Following this vote in the House, the Act will go on to President Obama’s desk where it’s expected he will sign it into law.

NAWG Hires Summer Intern Michael Granché
This week along with welcoming their new CEO, NAWG also welcomed their summer intern Michael Granché! Michael is a rising junior at Virginia Tech studying Applied Agricultural Economics as well as Animal Science. He serves as a student ambassador for the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences at his university. Michael is from Catlett, Virginia where he grew up on his family’s small beef farm; his hobbies include playing guitar and riding his unicycle. He is very excited to be on the NAWG team this summer and will be working alongside NAWG staff to gain experience in advocating for farmers through policy development and communications. His responsibilities vary from assisting with regular communications projects, and helping the policy department prepare for the Farm Bill by completing research and attending congressional hearings.

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Stabenow and Roberts Reach Agreement on GMO Labeling

After months of debate, Senate Ag Chairman Pat Roberts (R-KS) and Ranking Member Stabenow (D-MI) have produced a preemptive solution to the Vermont bill which goes into effect July 1, and will require mandatory labeling for GMO products, with disclosure options. The Roberts-Stabenow agreement could come before the full Senate next week, though the House is in recess until July 4. The preemptive language of the bill will upon enactment block Vermont’s law from being fully implemented, while allowing for two years to develop definitions and rules. More information about the bill can be found here, and the text of the bill can be found here.

Cuba Amendments Offered in House, but Path Forward Unclear

This week, the House Rules Committee made in order two amendments to be considered by the full House of Representatives during consideration of the FY 2017 Financial Services Appropriations bill. The first from Rep. Rick Crawford (R-AR) would lift for FY 2017 the statutory restriction on U.S. financial institutions offering credit for the sale of U.S. agricultural products to Cuba, and the other from Rep. Mark Sanford (R-SC) would lift the travel ban for a year. Last week, the Senate Appropriations Committee adopted similar amendments that would make these changes permanent. These amendments were set to be considered by the House on Wednesday, but consideration of the Financial Services Appropriations bill itself was delayed following a spat between Democrats and Republicans about taking action on gun regulations in the wake of the tragedy in Orlando last week. House leadership decided to adjourn the chamber for recess until after Independence Day.

NAWG believes that these two amendments are critical to normalizing trade relations with Cuba, and is hopeful that once the House moves back to consideration of the FY 2017 Financial Services Appropriations bill that these amendments will receive bipartisan support. Earlier this week, NAWG sent a letter with other members of the U.S. Ag Coalition for Cuba urging House leadership to ease the financing restrictions that limit trade with Cuba. Although the U.S. is well-positioned geographically to trade with Cuba, foreign competitors take away market share from the U.S. because of our competitive disadvantage resulting from the U.S. trade embargo.

Drones Get Administration, Congressional Attention

On Tuesday, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) issued a final rule addressing regulations for the operation of small Unmanned Aircraft Systems in the National Airspace System (NAS). Prior to this action, commercial drone operators have had to receive a waiver from the FAA before operation; this rule would instead establish rules so that waivers wouldn’t be necessary. Through this action, agricultural and other operators would be allowed to operate drones that weigh less than 55 pounds, though they would be limited to flying up to 400 feet and no more than 100 miles per hour. They would also have to be within sight of the operator and not fly over people.

Separate from this action, the House Agriculture Subcommittee on General Farm Commodities and Risk Management held a hearing to receive input from industry about innovations in agricultural imagery and technology. Among those testifying was former NAWG board member Robert Blair, who is a farmer from Kendrick, ID, and currently the Vice President of Agriculture Measure. He discussed how his family’s farming operation has continually integrated new technology since the farm started in 1903. Throughout the hearing, he discussed how the use of Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) and data can help farmers become more productive, use fewer inputs and do so more efficiently, and reduce the impact of weather on crops. He also discussed the role that the use of such information can play in crop insurance by enabling more accurate assessments and adjusting of claims.

USDA Department of Interior Announces Funding for Water and Energy Efficiency

The U.S. Departments of Agriculture (USDA) and Interior (DOI) today announced more than $47 million in funding to help water districts and producers on private working lands better conserve water resources. The funds include $15 million in USDA funds and $32.6 million from the Bureau of Reclamation for local projects to improve water and energy efficiency and provide a strengthened federal response to ongoing and potential drought across 13 states in the West. The Bureau of Reclamation funding supports 76 local projects through the DOI’s WaterSMART program. Funding from USDA’s Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS) will support on-farm water delivery system improvements through its Environmental Quality Incentives Program, in tandem with the DOI WaterSMART funded competitive grant projects and cost share grants.

More details on the program and projects announced today can be found on the WaterSMART Water and Energy Efficiency Grants website and on the Drought Response Program website. Through EQIP, NRCS is providing $5.2 million in on-farm assistance to complement several projects that have been funded previously by BOR, and will provide an additional $10 million in 2017 to support some of the Reclamation projects announced today.

NAWG Engages in Field to Market Meetings

NAWG Vice President David Schemm and Environmental Policy Advisor Keira Franz participated in Field to Market’s summer plenary, general assembly and work group meetings this week at the McDonald’s campus outside Chicago. Schemm, a grower representative on the Field to Market Board, also attended the board meeting where organizational goals, structure and membership were discussed. The larger events included discussions of supply chain field print projects, development of new metrics as well as updating existing metrics, and data retention policies. Pilot projects involving wheat growers are underway in several states.  Additional information on Field to Market can be found on their website.

Winter Wheat Yield Predicted to Break Records

The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Economic Research Service (ERS) predicts in a recent report that due to excellent growing conditions over much of the United States, particularly in the Great Plains region, the winter wheat average yield is now projected to be a record high 50.5 bushels per acre, with total production projected at over 1.5 billion bushels. Additionally, despite an 8-percent year-to-year decline in production area, this improved outlook for winter wheat will increase 2016/17 aggregate wheat production by 25 million bushels over the 2015/16 crop. According to the report, declines in planted acres have been offset by higher yield gains as compared to last year’s crop and a higher projected harvest-to-planted ratio. As of June 1, the winter wheat expected harvested area is 29.831 million acres, down 2.4 million acres from last year, but the projected harvest-to-planted ratio is 82.4 percent, slightly higher than 2015’s 81.7 percent. Despite some reports of bad weather and disease, the quality of the 2016/2017 winter wheat crop also remains high, with 62% of the winter wheat reported to be in “good” to “excellent” condition for the week ending June 5. In contrast, the spring wheat production for 2016 is projected to decline 16 percent based on lower planted area, relative to 2015. As of June 5, 96 percent of the spring wheat crop had emerged in the major wheat-cultivating states, which is well above the 5-year average pace of 78 percent. As with winter wheat, reports have stated that 79 percent of the crop is rated “good” to “excellent”. Overall, the weather in winter and spring wheat growing regions has provided excellent conditions for the cultivation of wheat, pushing the entire wheat yield to almost 50 bushels per acre. More information and analysis can be found by visiting the Economic Research Service website.

Farm Foundation Round Table Focuses on Consumer Trends

NAWG recently participated in the Farm Foundation Round Table event in Louisville, Kentucky where the discussions centered around consumer trends shaping the future of agriculture and our food system. Speakers and discussion leaders represented all facets of the food chain including farmers, processors and retailers. Many of the presenters emphasized the need for “transparency” throughout the food chain, as public skepticism and public scrutiny of how food is grown or produced will continue to increase. One national public research company representative indicated that, to many consumers, the term “farming” is still held in high regard but the term “agriculture” represents an institution and can’t be trusted. He also commented that “if you are trusted, science doesn’t matter; and, if you are not trusted, science still doesn’t matter.” Many panel members also emphasized that when members of the food chain talk directly with consumers, syntax matters. Consumers are increasingly wanting to know the story of the food they purchase and eat. For example, a representative of Burger King explained that product specifications for the food they purchase for their restaurants now go beyond taste, safety, quality and nutrition and include origin and production practices. The Farm Foundation Round Table meets twice annually. An objective of the Farm Foundation is to foster dialogue and build networks to increase understanding of public issues and policies.

Senate Panel Acts on International Seed Treaty

On Thursday, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee approved the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture, which is supported by NAWG. This action follows a May 19 hearing on the treaty, which included testimony from John Schoenecker, Director of Intellectual Property at HM. Clause, on behalf of the American Seed Trade Association (ASTA). The Treaty, which was adopted by the UN Food and Agriculture Organization in 2001, and signed by the U.S. in 2002, would create a stable legal framework for international germplasm exchanges, allowing for facilitation of access by public and private entities for the sharing of plant resources. Though the U.S. has signed the agreement, the Senate must ratify the Treaty in order to enable the U.S. to participate in the framework. With Committee action complete, the Treaty would now have to be considered by the full United States Senate.



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Congress passed legislation late last night reversing cuts to crop insurance that were made in the recent budget deal. The legislation—included as part of the highway bill—nullified what would have been a $3 billion cut to crop insurance over ten years. NAWG President, Brett Blankenship, a wheat grower from Washtucna, Wash., issued the following statement in response to the legislation.

“Last night’s vote was a huge victory for our agricultural producers and consumers everywhere. Congress made a five-year commitment to our producers when it passed the Farm Bill last year, and yesterday’s votes in the House and Senate confirmed that commitment. Wheat farmers across the country rely on crop insurance to help offset the risks of things that are beyond our control such as drought, severe weather events and market prices depressed by a strong U.S. dollar. The draconian cuts included as part of the budget agreement, which were reversed last night, would have increased the cost of delivering the program, reduced options for producers, and ultimately made premiums more expensive. We sincerely appreciate the corrective action taken by Congress, as do the thousands of farm families who grow wheat across our country.”

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