NAWG Weekly Update: December 17, 2015

FY 2016 Omnibus, Tax Agreement Reached, Congressional Action This Week
Yesterday Congressional negotiators released the text of an agreement to fund the government for the remainder of fiscal year 2016 and to make permanent a number of important tax provisions. The House of Representatives has taken the first step by approving the tax package, and consideration of the omnibus appropriations bill is expected Friday morning. Following House action, the Senate is expected to take up both bills, as early as Friday.

The FY 2016 omnibus appropriations bill increases discretionary spending for agriculture appropriations by $925 million above the FY 2015 enacted level to $21.75 billion. This includes $2.94 billion for agricultural research programs, including the Agriculture Research Service and the National Institute of Food and Agriculture. Competitive research grants through the Agriculture and Food Research Initiative are funded at $350 million. The Hatch Act program is funded at $243.7 million and Smith-Lever extension activities are funded at $300 million.

In terms of tax provisions, the bill includes a permanent extension of Section 179 at the $500,000 expensing limitation level (the phase-out amount is at the $2 million level).  Additionally, these amounts will also be indexed for inflation beginning in 2016.  The bill also includes an extension of bonus depreciation for property acquired and placed into service during 2015 through 2019.  The percentage is 50 percent for property placed into service during 2015, 2016, and 2017, and it phases down to 40 percent in 2018 and 30 percent in 2019.  A section-by-section summary of the tax package can be found here.

NAWG urges wheat farmers to contact your Members of Congress and Senators asking them to support the omnibus and tax package.

NAWG Concerned with Potential Impact of New Rules for Wheat Field Trials
Last Friday the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) announced new regulations for field-testing of genetically engineered (GE) wheat. The rule will require developers of GE wheat varieties to utilize the more stringent permit application process for field trials rather than the current notification process, beginning January 1, 2016.

“We respect USDA’s responsibility to oversee and regulate field trials of plants with genetically modified events but are concerned about the impact this rule change will have on wheat research and production,” says NAWG President Brett Blankenship, a wheat grower from Washtucna, Wash. “As we indicated to USDA during the comment period, we are concerned that the new rules will increase the cost of compliance and potentially impede wheat research programs, especially among small, private companies and public institutions whose resources for wheat research are already stretched.”

“Given the unmatched safety track record of all current GE crops, we view the added regulatory hurdle as unnecessary and potentially burdensome to moving wheat forward, says NAWG Vice President Gordon Stoner, a wheat grower from Outlook, Mont. “There is no commercially available GE wheat in production, no GE wheat in any export channels, and no GE wheat varieties currently awaiting APHIS deregulation, so having USDA-APHIS categorize future GE wheat research field trials for added scrutiny is both puzzling and potentially inhibiting for those seeking much needed public and private research investments.”

NAWG Attends National Fusarium Head Blight Forum
Last week the U.S. Wheat and Barley Scab Initiative held its annual conference, the 2015 National Fusarium Head Blight Forum in St. Louis, Mo. The Forum is an integral component of the U.S. Wheat & Barley Scab Initiative. Growers and grower group representatives, millers and other food processors, consumers, and scientists – public and private, took part in the proceedings, including staff from NAWG.

A robust agenda included presentations from scientists working on Fusarium Head Blight (Scab). Fusarium Head Blight has plagued wheat producers for several decades and is considered by many as the number one enemy of American wheat and barley growers. The disease inflicts yield and quality losses on farms in most of the wheat producing states across the U.S. Farmers, grain handers and food companies throughout the U.S. incur losses from the cost of dealing with the toxin-contaminated grain that often accompanies scab infection.

Additional information about the Initiative and its annual forum are available at http://scabusa.org//forum15.

National Wheat Improvement Committee Holds Annual Meeting
Last week the National Wheat Improvement Committee (NWIC) held its annual meeting immediately following the National Fusarium Head Blight Forum in St Louis, Mo. The Committee consists of public and private wheat researchers, growers, and representatives of NAWG and the milling and baking industries. Members equally represent all classes of wheat in the U.S. NWIC’s 24 members discussed research needs for wheat across all regions of the U.S.

NWIC also set the date for its annual fly in from March 13-15, 2016 in Washington, D.C. There, NWIC will seek support to address critical needs in wheat research. NAWG encourages attendance by wheat committee members at the fly-in. Congress needs to hear clear, concise messaging from wheat researchers regarding wheat technology needs. Contact NAWG Director of Research and Technology Steve Joehl at sjoehl@wheatworld.org to join the fly-in.

Climate Agreement Reached
Negotiations at the United Nations Climate meeting ended on Saturday with an agreement between the 195 countries participating. The Conference of the Parties (COP) met in Paris during the first two weeks of December.  COP21 and the Paris Agreement, as it is called, seeks to hold the increase in global average temperature to below 2 degrees Celsius and to pursue efforts to limit the increase in temperature to 1.5 degrees Celsius. Each country will set their specific targets that will be periodically reviewed. Last year, President Obama released the U.S. commitment to reduce emissions by 26-28 percent below 2005 levels by 2025. While the Paris Agreement does not specifically reference agriculture, it does address the importance of carbon sinks.

The agreement will need to be ratified by 55 countries, representing 55 percent of emissions to become effective. President Obama addressed the nation on Saturday after the agreement was reached and has indicated that Congressional approval of the Paris Climate Agreement is not necessary.

NAWG Holiday Schedule
The NAWG office will be closed for the holidays beginning at noon on Wednesday, Dec. 23 through Friday, Dec. 25. The NAWG offices will also be closed Thursday, Dec. 31 and Friday, Jan. 1. Due to these holidays, the next NAWG Weekly Update will be distributed on Thursday, Jan. 7. We wish everyone a safe and happy holiday season.