NAWG Weekly Update: October 29, 2015

House Approves Budget Agreement with Commitment to Avert Crop Insurance Cuts
On Monday, the Administration and Congressional leadership announced a bipartisan budget deal that would both raise discretionary spending caps by $80 billion for FY 2016 and FY 2017 and increase the debt limit until March 15, 2017. The federal government is expected to hit the debt ceiling by next Tuesday. The budget agreement included a title that would require the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to renegotiate the Standard Reinsurance Agreement (SRA) by December 31, 2016, including a $3 billion cut to the program over ten years. The SRA is the agreement between the Risk Management Agency (RMA) and the crop insurance companies to administer the program.

NAWG has consistently opposed any cuts to crop insurance, including cuts to either program delivery or producer support. NAWG and its state affiliates actively lobbied members of Congress to remove the proposed cut from the budget agreement. House Agriculture Committee Chairman Mike Conaway (R-TX) and Ranking Member Collin Peterson (D-MN) actively worked to convince leadership that this cut would reopen the Farm Bill and drastically affect the delivery of crop insurance. The groundswell of opposition from the agricultural community and from many members of Congress led to Chairman Conaway and Ranking Member Peterson securing a commitment from House Leadership that the cut to crop insurance would be reversed as part of an omnibus appropriations bill, which is due to be considered by December. Reps. Conaway and Peterson supported the bill, which passed the House 266-167; it is now under consideration by the Senate.

Today, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and Senate Agriculture Committee Chairman Pat Roberts (R-KS) spoke about crop insurance on the Senate floor. Majority Leader McConnell committed to working closely with House Leadership to reverse the crop insurance cuts as part of the omnibus appropriations bill. This commitment was satisfactory to Chairman Roberts, and the budget agreement is expected to pass and be signed into law by President Obama.

Following Senate discussion, NAWG President Brett Blankenship issued the following statement, “We are pleased that House and Senate leadership have committed to reversing the cuts currently proposed in the budget agreement. Crop insurance is an essential part of the farm safety net, and it needs to stay as such.” Read the full statement here.

Congress Approves Short Term Highway Bill, PTC Deadline Extensions
On Wednesday, the Senate unanimously approved a short-term extension of programs and funding for highway construction and transportation projects to November 20, 2015; following passage by the House of Representatives earlier in the week. This short-term extension is intended to give time for Congressional leaders to finalize work on a long-term highway bill. Included in the bill was a three-year extension for implementation of Positive Train Control (PTC).

Following Senate action, NAWG President Brett Blankenship said, “We are pleased by the passage of the PTC extension ahead of the December 31 implementation deadline. A shutdown of the nation’s freight rail network would have disastrous consequences for the nation’s economy and U.S. wheat growers who rely on the rail system to move their grain.” View the full statement here.

NAWG and USW Submit Comments on GE Wheat Field Trial
On Monday, NAWG and the U.S. Wheat Associates (USW) filed joint comments on the proposed changes by USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) to genetically engineered (GE) wheat field trails. While NAWG and USW understand setting mechanisms to prevent unintentional mixing and offspring, the organizations stated that a “balance of risk mitigation activities required to obtain compliance of field trials against the costs associated with such activities” is also necessary.

APHIS’ proposal includes changing the field trials from a notification to a permit process, and extending the timeline for volunteer monitoring to 4 years. Wheat acreage in the U.S. is on a 20-year decline. NAWG and USW recommend a 2-year volunteer monitoring process, citing the proposed 4-year volunteer monitoring requirement as one of the highest cost activities of compliance for researchers that could negatively impact GE wheat research trends, resulting in further erosion of wheat’s competitiveness with other crops. NAWG’s farmer leaders believe there is an urgent need to increase investments in productivity and profitability in the U.S. wheat industry to reverse the decline and encourage APHIS to be cognizant of cost implications from changes in GE wheat research. Click here to view the full comments.

White House Recognizes Sustainable Leaders
This week, NAWG attended the White House Champions of Change for Sustainable and Climate-Smart Agriculture event. The event recognized 12 individuals for their exemplary leadership in supporting change in their communities through innovation in agricultural production and education. Panel discussions featured the 12 champions and how their sustainable practices are impacting their communities. In addition, USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack and Senator Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) also spoke at the event. Click here for more information about the White House Champions of Change.

Wheat Growers Head to Nevada for Fall Wheat Conference
NAWG is heading to Incline Village, Nev. for the Fall Wheat Conference next week. Follow along on Facebook and Twitter for real time updates from the conference. Due to the conference next week, the next NAWG Weekly Update will be distributed November 12.