NAWG Weekly Update: May 21, 2015

Senate Ag Committee Approves Grain Standards Act Reauthorization Bill
Today the Senate Agriculture Committee marked up and unanimously approved bipartisan legislation offered by Chairman Pat Roberts (R-KS) and Ranking Member Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) to reauthorize the Grain Standards Act (GSA). In addition to reauthorizing the GSA for five years, the legislation includes several important provisions to ensure transparency and predictability in the export grain inspection system. The text of the bill can be viewed here.

Some changes are intended to prevent future disruptions in export inspection services like what occurred last summer at the Port of Vancouver. Specifically, the legislation would require that for any State-delegated agency that intends to temporarily cease inspection services, that agency must provide 72 hours notice to USDA’s Federal Grain Inspection Service (FGIS).  USDA would then be required to immediately take the actions needed to address the disruption and resume inspection services. USDA would also be required to report to Congress within 24 hours of the disruption on the actions needed to enable inspections to resume. Additionally, the legislation would require USDA to report to Congress regarding last year’s disruption, including information about the port facility, the security situation, and any policy changes made by USDA to prevent similar future disruptions.

State delegated agencies would be able to retain their authority under this legislation. However, USDA would be required to establish a certification process and require delegated agencies to be recertified every five years. The certification process would include an official 30-day public comment period. The bill also restricts the use of private entities for inspections of grain for export.

The legislation would also require a report to Congress on the barriers that U.S. grain producers face in exporting grain to countries that do not provide an official grade, or provide only the lowest designation, for U.S. grain. This provision is particularly relevant given Canada’s treatment of U.S. wheat where it receives only feed quality designation, no matter the quality. The provision in the bill would require an analysis of the possibility that such treatment is inconsistent with the country’s trade obligations.

NAWG is pleased with the action taken on this important legislation. The House Agriculture Committee has also approved its own reauthorization bill. The next step is floor consideration in both the House of Representatives and Senate.  

U.S Wheat Growers Call for Equal Trade in Canada
Yesterday, U.S. Wheat Associates (USW) and NAWG jointly called for improvements in Canada’s treatment of U.S. wheat classes in a letter to Canadian Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food, Gerry Ritz, and Canadian Minister of International Trade, Ed Fast. While there has been positive collaboration between the two countries on wheat policy, the recent WTO Country of Origin Labeling (COOL) decision concerning the labeling of meat highlights Canada’s inconsistency on the issue of treatment of foreign agricultural products.

The United States is routinely Canada’s top wheat export market and allows wheat grown in Canada to be graded and traded the same as U.S. wheat in the market. Yet, the Canada Grains Act and Varietal Registration System (VRS) denies U.S. producers that same courtesy. Instead, all foreign grown grain is automatically downgraded under Canada’s official grading system to the lowest designation, regardless of whether the wheat is an approved Canadian variety or of high quality.

The two organizations propose that giving the market the freedom to determine origin segregation’s value — rather than mandating foreign grain labeling — not only increases benefits for both sides of the border, but also continues to strengthen the relationship between the two countries, further laying the foundation for a long-term, mutually profitable trade environment. The full letter text can be found here

Senate Takes Procedural Step Toward Finishing Trade Promotion Authority
The Senate voted 62-38 to cut off debate on consideration of legislation to reauthorize Trade Promotion Authority (TPA) today. The action required 60 votes. Approval of the cloture motion sets up action for consideration of some of the remaining amendments, as well as a vote on final passage, which could occur yet this week. NAWG will continue to monitor TPA discussions and support its passage.

NAWG and U.S. Wheat Associates Submit Testimony Concerning Trade with Cuba
This week, NAWG President Brett Blankenship and USW Chairman Roy Motter submitted testimony to the U.S. International Trade Commission (ITC) describing Cuban imports of goods and services and the impact of U.S. restrictions on the export of wheat. The ITC is developing a report concerning the economic effects of U.S. restrictions on trade with, and travel to, Cuba, and sought input from interested stakeholders. The testimony describes the U.S. trade relationship with Cuba in the early 2000s, outlines the constraints that have developed restricting our ability to export to Cuba, and addresses the regulatory proposals put forth by the Obama Administration earlier this year. 

White House Releases Pollinator Plan
This week the White House released a National Strategy to Promote the Health of Honey Bees and other Pollinators outlining the efforts of 14 departments and agencies of the federal government to address pollinators. The effort is a response to a memorandum issued last year by President Obama directing the creation of a federal strategy. The strategy focuses on research to understand pollinator loss, expanding education and outreach, increasing pollinator habitat and developing public-private partnerships. Crops dependent upon insect pollination were valued at $15 billion in 2009 and honey bee populations have been declining for several decades.

The strategy’s goals are to reduce honey bee colony losses during winter to no more than 15 percent within 10 years; increase overwintering grounds in Mexico to approximately 15 acres by 2020; and to restore or enhance 7 million acres of land for pollinators over the next 5 years. USDA will focus on coordinating research efforts across agencies and review habitat creation through the Conservation Reserve Program and the Environmental Quality Incentives Program. The Environmental Protection Agency will require more information on pollinator impact for pesticide registration and reregistration is working with states on the creation of state pollinator plans and is reviewing additional pesticide label restrictions.

NWF Wheat Advocates Pilot Program A Success
With the generous support of industry partner Monsanto, last fall the National Wheat Foundation launched the Wheat Advocates program to tell the wheat industry story and promote innovation in the grain chain. Five advocates are actively participating in the program, representing many regions and industry positions, including farmers, plant breeders, and communicators. Since the launch of the program in December 2014, the network of advocates have been active in promoting the issues and activities important to the wheat industry and the Foundation through their own networks, blogs and social media pages. The advocates have been pursuing innovative new ways to promote the wheat industry. This has resulted in media, blogs and social media posts that promote wheat.

For more information about the Wheat Advocates program, visit the Foundation website or blog.