NAWG Weekly Update: March 10, 2016

Vilsack Testifies Before Senate Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee
As part of the FY 2017 appropriations process, U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Secretary Tom Vilsack testified before the Senate Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee to discuss the Administration’s budget request, including the funding levels for agricultural research. Additionally, members discussed biotech labeling, the use and accuracy of National Agricultural Statistics Services data for purposes of determining Title 1 payment rates, rural broadband, and the funding requirements for placing Foreign Agriculture Service employees at the embassy in Cuba. Secretary Vilsack was questioned about the Administration’s proposed $18 billion cut to the crop insurance program. Specifically, the budget request would lower the premium assistance for crop insurance policies that include the Harvest Price Option (HPO) and it would cut policies covering prevented planting. Secretary Vilsack defended the proposal by saying the view of the Administration is that the HPO policy should be split more evenly between the farmer and the federal government, and he cited a USDA Office of Inspector General report that was critical of the administration of the prevent plant program. NAWG opposes these cuts to the crop insurance program. 

Senate Environment Committee Holds Hearing on EPA Regulation
The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee held a hearing this week on “Cooperative Federalism” with witnesses from state governments in South Dakota, Arkansas, West Virginia, Vermont and Delaware. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) administers environmental laws through a process of cooperative federalism working with state agencies to implement and enforce many regulatory requirements. Chairman James Inhofe (R-OK) expressed concerns about the Administration’s plethora of new regulations and an agenda that “runs over states by imposing an increasing number of federal regulatory actions on states while requesting less funds to help states carry out these actions.”

NAWG Awards Ambassador Vetter with President’s Award
At last week’s Commodity Classic, Immediate Past NAWG President Brett Blankenship awarded Darci Vetter, the Chief Agriculture Negotiator at the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative, with NAWG’s President’s Award. This is the first time the President’s Award has been given, and it is designed to highlight individuals who work tirelessly on behalf of the agriculture industry. It is given to someone who expresses a passion for the wheat industry, based on the individual’s demonstration of commitment to the welfare and goals of America’s wheat farmers.

National Wheat Improvement Committee DC Fly-In Scheduled for Next Week
The National Wheat Improvement Committee (NWIC) is scheduled to visit Washington, D.C. next week. This event coincides with National Ag Day, March 15. The committee is made up of 24 members, most of whom are wheat breeders and stakeholders. Twenty-three of the members will be present, including Dr. Paul Murphy, Chairman from North Carolina State University and Vice Chair Robert Zemetra, a wheat breeder from Oregon State University. The committee seeks to create awareness for continued public funding of wheat testing services. The committee will emphasize the importance to continue funding the Wheat and Barley SCAB Initiative and United States Department of Agriculture-Agriculture Research Service (USDA-ARS) wheat quality labs, which support the U.S. wheat breeding community. The government provided services are necessary to provide high quality wheat to U.S. consumers and export customers.

NAWG holds committee meetings at Commodity Classic
Research and Technology Committee
NAWG’s Research and Technology Committee discussed details of the request by Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) to provide input on the regulatory alternatives the agency is considering for biotechnology and the issues to be evaluated in USDA’s Environmental Impact Statement pertaining to the alternatives considered by the USDA. NAWG is preparing its comments to the USDA APHIS to meet the period deadline of April 21.

The Committee renewed its support of the ‘Principles for Collaboration in Wheat Breeding and Biotechnology’ and will continue to urge the biotechnology providers to use the quality targets developed by U.S. Wheat’s Wheat Quality Committee as the standard for the commercialization of non-biotech and biotech wheat varieties.

Highlighting new resolutions, NAWG will support federal funding of biotechnology research and science-based education for farmers, researchers, and consumers, as well as the voluntary food labeling of biotechnology using QR code (Smart Label) or website or phone numbers that will provide consumers with information of products containing biotechnology and to encourage education of biotechnology to consumers.

Environmental and Renewable Resources Committee
NAWG’s Environment and Renewable Resources Committee reviewed policy resolutions and addressed current issues. The Committee heard from guest speakers Bill Buckner and Wayne Honeycutt from the Soil Health Institute and Jennifer Shaw from Syngenta. The Committee also took action on policy issues including Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) regulations on Anhydrous Ammonia facilities, future availability of treated seeds, and EPA’s pesticide certification requirements and worker protection standards.

Operations & Planning Committee
Several reports and updates were provided the committee members including a review of current NAWG and National Wheat Foundation (NWF) industry partner projects, an update on the 2016 Commodity Classic attendance, trade show and educational events, and an update on the 2016 Presidents’ Reception and WheatPAC Auction event. Information about upcoming promotional plans for the National Wheat Yield Contest was also presented.

Domestic and Trade Policy Committee
NAWG’s Domestic and Trade Policy Committee (DTPC) discussed issues that could have significant implications for the agricultural economy. With the GMO labeling debate front and center on the national stage, NAWG invited Kelly Johnston, Vice President of Government Affairs at Campbell Soup Company, to talk about Campbell’s recent decision to begin labeling their food containing genetically engineered ingredients. He cited the impending implementation of the Vermont labeling law on July 1, as well as the growing demand from consumers for this information, as reasons for the decision. Campbell’s also has a website where they disclose additional information about their products.

The DTPC discussed developing priorities for the next Farm Bill, which is slated for reauthorization in 2018. Expiring policy resolutions were reviewed and several new proposals were considered. Specifically, the Committee adopted a new short-term international trade policy goal of supporting all member country compliance with World Trade Organization (WTO) trade commitments. NAWG and U.S. Wheat Associates have been working jointly to direct public attention to the impact of other countries’ domestic support programs, which have been shown to greatly exceed their WTO commitments, on U.S. farmer revenue. In addition to this policy goal, the Committee also adopted a resolution supporting immediate Congressional ratification of the Trans Pacific Partnership, as well as a resolution to encourage the Department of Labor to reduce and eliminate excessive regulations that make the H2A and other employment programs unusable for the agricultural industry.

NAWG Welcomes New Communications Manager
The National Association of Wheat Growers is pleased to welcome Ainslie Campbell to an expanded role on the NAWG team. Ainslie is a recent graduate of the University of Wisconsin-Madison with a degree in English Communications. She has been supporting NAWG’s policy and operations teams since early 2016 and her role is now being expanded to include communications. We are excited to welcome Ainslie to her new role. You can reach her at acampbell@wheatworld.org or (202) 547-7800.