President Obama Announces Cuban Thaw
The National Association of Wheat Growers (NAWG) and U.S. Wheat Associates (USW) applaud President Obama’s announcement on Wednesday that the United States will begin discussions to renew diplomatic relations with Cuba, which will make it easier for Cuba to buy U.S. agricultural products, including wheat. We anticipate that these re-established trade relations will help open a market for U.S. wheat products in Cuba.
Specifically the President announced that the U.S. will reopen an embassy in Havana, exchange high-level visits to encourage normalization, an expansion of travel licenses for the 12 existing categories of authorized travel to Cuba, an increase of allowed remittances to Cuba by 400% per quarter, authorizing certain exports to Cuba, increased import authorization for U.S. citizens, among other efforts to increases communication between the Cuban people and the United States. Finally, the President directed the State Department to reexamine Cuba’s designation as a state sponsor of terrorism, the finding of which will determine how long this thaw will last.
Cuba, which does not grow wheat commercially, is the largest wheat market in the Caribbean, purchasing almost all of its wheat from the European Union and Canada. Cuba could import at least 500,000 metric tons of wheat from the United States each year but has not purchased U.S. wheat since 2011. Under the current embargo, the United States can export agricultural products to Cuba through the use of third-party banking institutions, which makes facilitating trade burdensome and often more expensive.
“U.S. wheat farmers are excited about the prospect of exporting more wheat to Cuba,” says NAWG President Paul Penner. “NAWG has long supported strengthened trade relations with Cuba and see this as a historic step in that direction.”
“The U.S. wheat industry applauds these actions, which take concrete steps away from a policy approach towards Cuba that has accomplished little,” said USW President Alan Tracy. “If Cuba resumes purchases of U.S. wheat, we believe our market share there could grow from its current level of zero to around 80-90 percent, as it is in other Caribbean nations.”
President Signs Cromnibus
On Tuesday, the President signed the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2015 into law, otherwise known as the “cromnibus.” The Act was passed last Saturday by the Senate in a 56-40 vote, and by the House last week by a vote of 219-206. The cromnibus funds most of the government through fiscal year 2015 and includes $20.6 billion in discretionary funding under the Agriculture, Rural Development and FDA portion of the Act, this is $305 million below the fiscal year 2014 enacted level.
The bill provides $2.7 billion in agricultural research programs, including the Agricultural Research Service at $1.1 billion and the National Institute of Food and Agriculture was funded at $786 million. The Agriculture and Food Research Initiative received $325 million which funds are used for research, education and extension grants for National, regional and multi-state concerns in all agriculture sectors. The Farm Service Agency (FSA) was funded at $1.5 billion, which is $22 million above fiscal year 2014 and allows $6 billion in loan authorizations for farm, conservation and emergency loan programs. The bill directs the Market Access Programs (MAP) and the Foreign Market Development (FMD) be funded at $200 million and $34.5 million, the same as fiscal year 2014
The Natural Resources Conservation Service received $859 million to help farmers, ranchers and private forest landowners conserve and protect their land. The bill reduces the conservation program spending that was approved in the 2014 Farm Bill, providing $253 million less for the Environmental Quality Incentives Program and decreasing annual enrollment in the Conservation Stewardship Program by 2.26 million acres.
There were additional provisions in the bill that restrict the Administration from moving forward on the Interpretive Rule related to USDA conservation practices and the proposed Waters of the US regulation, and listing of the sage grouse on the endangered species list. You can view the full summary of agriculture appropriations here.
Tax Extenders Passed the Senate
On Tuesday evening, the Senate voted and passed the tax extender bill, HR 5771, a bill the House passed earlier this month. This includes extending Sec. 179, the small business deduction of up to $500,000 for new/used equipment. Also included in the Bill was an increase to barge diesel fuel user fee, which was supported by many agricultural groups including NAWG. The provision, which was a part of in the “ABLE” Act that was combined with the tax extenders language, increases the user fee by 9 cents, from 20 cents to 29 cents. It will raise an estimated $260 million over the next 10 years to make improvements and repairs to America’s waterway system.
Senate and House Conclude 113th Congress
The Senate and House have officially concluded the 113th Congress. The 114th Congress will be back when their first session begins on January 6, 2015 and the freshman class will be sworn in that same day. Here you can view the House and Senate calendars for the first session.
2015 WOLF Program Participants Requested
The 2015 Wheat Organization Leaders of the Future (WOLF) Program will be held January 26-28 in Research Triangle Park (Raleigh), North Carolina, the site of the program’s industry partner, Bayer CropScience. The WOLF Program, an annual wheat grower leader orientation program of the National Wheat Foundation (NWF), provides new and/or “newer” National Association of Wheat Growers (NAWG) board members with topical information and training to enable them to be more productive, knowledgeable and effective national wheat grower leaders. Participants in the 2015 WOLF program will initially meet in North Carolina, then travel to Washington, DC to participate in the 2015 Winter Wheat Conference, January 28-31. State wheat grower organizations are urged to submit the names of their WOLF program participants to Hugh Whaley (firstname.lastname@example.org) and Jinger Eberspacher (email@example.com) by December 31.
EPA Sends Pesticide Consultation Report to Capitol Hill
The 2014 Farm Bill required the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the US Department of Agriculture, the Department of Commerce and the Department of Interior (DOI) to report to the House and Senate Agriculture Committees regarding pesticide registration and consultation on endangered species. The EPA is required to consult with DOI’s Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) and Commerce’s National Marine Fisheries (NMF) regarding the potential impact of pesticides on endangered species, but consultation process has not worked well for close to 30 years due to a lack of clarity of data the FWS and NMF were using to assess impacts to endangered species.
In 2013 the National Academy of Sciences’ National Research Council issued a report on the scientific and technical issues regarding pesticide consultations.
The Farm Bill required the agencies involved to report on how they were implementing the recommendation of the 2013 report. In the submission to the Agriculture Committees, the EPA highlighted joint meetings and a new process to improve stakeholder involvement and transparency in the review process. NAWG supports greater clarity in endangered species consultation process for registration, and reregistration, of pesticides and a process that is streamlined, transparent, open to stakeholder input and, most importantly, based on the best available science.
Last Chance to Apply for the NWF Jerry Minore Scholarship
The National Wheat Foundation (NWF) has partnered with BASF to award four scholarships, on behalf of the Minore Memorial Scholarship, for college students who have a personal connection to the wheat industry and a planned career path in the agriculture industry.
The scholarship is named in honor of Jerry Minore, who was a longtime friend of the wheat industry and an advocate for wheat farmers. To honor Jerry’s life and work, the Minore Memorial Scholarship will fund two $1,500 scholarships and two $1,000 scholarships for the 2014-2015 academic year.
The scholarship application and eligibility requirements can be found here. Applications are due postmarked BY or ON December 19, 2014.
Senate Agriculture and Appropriations Committee Members Announced
The Senate announced their 114th Congress committee memberships this week. Committee assignments for the Senate Committee on Agriculture Nutrition and Forestry and the Senate Appropriations Committee include:
Senate Committee on Agriculture Nutrition and Forestry
Pat Roberts, Kansas, Chairman
Thad Cochran, Mississippi
Mitch McConnell, Kentucky
John Boozman, Arkansas
John Hoeven, North Dakota
David Perdue, Georgia
Joni Ernst, Iowa
Thom Tillis, North Carolina
Ben Sasse, Nebraska
Chuck Grassley, Iowa
John Thune, South Dakota
Debbie Stabenow, Michigan, Ranking
Patrick Leahy, Vermont
Sherrod Brown, Ohio
Amy Klobuchar, Minnesota
Michael Bennet, Colorado
Kirsten Gillibrand, New York
Joe Donnelly, Indiana
Heidi Heitkamp, North Dakota
Bob Casey, Pennsylvania
Senate Committee on Appropriations
Thad Cochran, Mississippi, Chairman
Mitch McConnell, Kentucky
Richard Shelby, Alabama
Lamar Alexander, Tennessee
Susan Collins, Maine
Lisa Murkowski, Alaska
Lindsey Graham, South Carolina
Mark Kirk, Illinois
Roy Blunt, Missouri
Jerry Moran, Kansas
John Hoeven, North Dakota
John Boozman, Arkansas
Shelley Moore Capito, West Virginia
Bill Cassidy, Louisiana
James Lankford, Oklahoma
Steve Daines, Montana
Barbara Mikulski, Maryland, Ranking
Patrick Leahy, Vermont
Patty Murray, Washington
Diane Feinstein, California
Richard Durbin, Illinois
Jack Reed, Rhode Island
Jon Tester, Montana
Tom Udall, New Mexico
Jeane Shaheen, New Hampshire
Jeff Merkley, Oregon
Chris Coons, Delaware
Brian Schatz, Hawaii
Tammy Baldwin, Wisconsin
Chris Murphy, Connecticut
NAWG will be closed in observance of the Christmas and New Year’s Holidays. Look for our next Weekly Update on Jan. 8. Have a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!