NAWG Weekly Update: October 1, 2015

Congress Passes Continuing Resolution to Avert Government Shutdown
With Wednesday marking the last day of fiscal year 2015 and with neither the House nor the Senate having completed action on any appropriations bills, Congress passed a continuing resolution (CR) to continue funding the government under the FY 2015 law through December 11, 2015. With this action, Congress will now be tasked with either passing another CR at that time, working on individual appropriations bills, or developing a new omnibus appropriations bill. In addition to appropriations work this fall, Congress is also expected to address a long-term transportation bill, tax extensions and an increase in the debt ceiling.

Agriculture Reauthorizations Act of 2015 Passes in the House
On Monday, the House passed the Agriculture Reauthorizations Act of 2015, and President Obama signed the bill into law on Wednesday. The Agriculture Reauthorizations Act of 2015 includes three separate titles, including one to reauthorize the Grain Standards Act for five years. This component of the bill would require the USDA’s Federal Grain Inspection Service to immediately take such steps as are necessary to resume inspections when a delegated state agency discontinues services. Additionally, the reauthorization will require a recertification process, including a public comment period for delegated state agencies, as well as several reporting requirements to ensure transparency. “This bill establishes more transparency and ensures there is no disruption in inspection services should a delegated state agency discontinue providing services. This bill provides the certainty wheat growers need. It’s important to have bipartisan bills like this make their way through Congress, and we look forward to the president signing the bill into law,” commented NAWG President and wheat grower Brett Blankenship.

Senate Hearing Focuses on Army Corps
The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee held a hearing with Jo-Ellen Darcy, assistant secretary of the Army for Civil Works, discussing the Waters of the U.S. regulation. Senators focused on the comments of Army Corps of Engineers staff in memos regarding negotiations with the EPA on the final rule issued in May. The internal memos, released during a committee meeting in the House of Representatives in July, raise questions about the involvement of the Army Corps and extensive questions the staff raised regarding elements of the regulation, including definitions of which waters would become jurisdictional under the final regulation. Assistant Secretary Darcy stated that she supports the regulation and stands behind the final rule. Lawsuits against the EPA and the Army Corps of Engineers are pending in several states, and the regulation is currently in effect in 37 of the 50 states. NAWG supports providing regulatory relief from the expansive Waters of the U.S. regulation and urges Congress to pass standalone legislation to send the regulation back to EPA and the Army Corps or restrict funding to the agencies to prohibit implementation in end of year funding bills.

House Agriculture Committee Holds Food Aid Hearing
This week, the House Agriculture Committee invited commodity groups, private volunteer organizations and U.S. food aid suppliers to testify in front of the full committee on food aid. The testimonies largely discussed the need to continue U.S. agricultural products in the Food for Peace program. The American Soybean Association and USA Rice Federation testified regarding the importance the program has to farmers across the nation. In his opening statement, Chairman Conaway (R-TX) stated, “It is clear … that efforts have only just begun to evaluate the benefits of the flexibility provided in the 2014 Farm Bill [and] those findings underscored my view that the continued push for added program flexibility is premature.” As the committee continues to review the Food for Peace program, NAWG supports efforts to keep food in food aid that provides many around the world a safe source of nutrition to which they would not otherwise have access. You can view the full hearing here.

EPA Releases Final Worker Protection Standard
On Monday, the EPA released the final revised worker protection standard, the first update in more than 20 years. The regulation addresses protections for farmworkers that work in fields treated by pesticides and pesticide handlers that mix or apply pesticides. The regulation requires annual mandatory training for farmworkers, new no-entry application exclusion zones and mandatory recordkeeping of pesticide application and farmworker training for two years. It also requires alignment with the U.S. Department of Labor’s standards for personal protective equipment e.g., respirators including a fit test and medical evaluation, and a prohibition on anyone less than 18 years of age handling pesticides, except for an exemption for immediate family for farm owners. The regulation will become effective one year and 60 days after it is published in the Federal Register. New requirements for safety training, pesticide safety information and requirements to suspend applications when anyone is in the application exclusion zone will not be effective until two years after the date of publication.

TPP Negotiators Meet in Atlanta
Chief negotiators of countries participating in the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) talks have been meeting in Atlanta this week. News reports have indicated that some of the outstanding issues of discussion include dairy supports, rules of origin for automobiles and patent protections for biologic drugs. The status of wheat in those discussions is still unclear at this time, but NAWG continues to engage the administration in pushing for expanded market access for U.S. wheat farmers in countries like Japan and Vietnam. Conclusion of the TPP negotiations is possible at the Atlanta meeting this week, though press reports have indicated that discussions could be extended into the weekend. If no final agreement is reached, negotiations could extend into the fall.

U.S.-China Strategic Agriculture Innovation Dialogue
Last week, during Chinese President Xi’s visit, U.S. and Chinese government officials held an important conversation and the first of what is hoped to be an annual meeting to discuss strategic agricultural innovations. The dialogue featured presentations by Chinese and American companies and academics primarily on the topic of biotechnology. Shortly after the meeting, the White House released a “U.S.-China Economic Relations” fact sheet that discussed the meeting and hopes for future meetings. The fact sheet stated that the U.S. Secretary of Agriculture and China’s Minister of Agriculture renewed the memorandum of understanding between U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Ministry of Agriculture of the People’s Republic of China for cooperation in agriculture and related fields. It outlined the commitment both countries made to improve the biotechnology approval processes through implementation of timely, transparent, predictable and science-based processes. NAWG remains engaged in these conversations as we support strong biotech policy and a streamlined approval process domestically and internationally. You can read the full fact sheet here.