NAWG Weekly Update: February 25, 2016

Vilsack Testifies on the State of the Rural Economy
U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Secretary Tom Vilsack testified before the House Agriculture Committee on Wednesday at a hearing that discussed the state of the rural economy. In his testimony, Secretary Vilsack discussed the difficult economic conditions resulting from falling commodity prices, indicating that USDA anticipates real net farm income to be at the lowest level since 2002. At the same time, he indicated that median farm household income (including off-farm income) has grown more than 40 percent between 2010 and 2015. Additionally, his testimony stated that the debt to asset ratio for U.S. producers is still near record lows.

In addition to discussing general economic conditions, the hearing also delved into a number of other topics including the cotton industry’s proposal to designate cottonseed as an “other oilseed” for purposes of farm program eligibility, the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) sign-up, USDA’s biofuel programs, nutrition program, the Department budget to battle forest fires, biotechnology regulations and a number of other topics.

More information about the hearing can be found here, including Chairman Conaway’s opening statement and Secretary Vilsack’s testimony.

House Ag Appropriations Subcommittee Holds Budget Review Hearings
This week, the House Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee is holding several hearings to review USDA’s budget request following the release of the Administration’s FY 2017 budget request.

On Wednesday, the Subcommittee heard from Food, Nutrition, and Consumer Services Undersecretary Kevin Concannon and others about the budget request for the Food and Nutrition Service, followed by a hearing with Food Safety Deputy Undersecretary Al Almanza to talk about the Food Safety and Inspection Service budget request. The Subcommittee also heard from Food and Drug Administration (FDA) Acting Commissioner Stephen Ostroff, and they will hear from NRCS Chief Jason Weller on Friday. Additional budget hearings will continue over the coming weeks, including one Thursday, March 3, which will feature Marketing and Regulatory Programs Administrator Ed Avalos and the administrators for APHIS and GIPSA, who oversees the Federal Grain Inspection Service.

Information about the House Appropriations Committee’s work can be found here and the Senate Appropriations Committee can be found here.

Appeals Court Rules in WOTUS Case
This week the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals issued a ruling in the cases against the Obama Administration’s Waters of the U.S. (WOTUS) regulation. Several of the court cases pending against the Environmental Protection Agency and the Army Corps of Engineers were consolidated in the 6th Circuit. The decision before the court was based on the issue of whether or not the court has jurisdiction to hear the case. The ruling was a split decision, 2-1, with two judges agreeing that the 6th Circuit Court does have jurisdiction. For now, the restriction on the implementation of the WOTUS regulation will remain in place. Additional actions on this case are expected in the 6th Circuit.

Senate Agriculture Committee Chairman Proposes GMO Labeling Markup
Last week the Senate Agriculture Committee Chairman released his Chairman’s Mark on biotech labeling. In an effort to pass a bill in the Senate prior to the Vermont implementation date on July 1, 2016, Chairman Roberts has proposed preemption to avoid a state-by-state patchwork of biotech labeling bills. His proposal also creates a voluntary biotechnology-labeling program through USDA, requires USDA to define biotechnology and creates an educational program on biotechnology for consumers. The Chairman’s proposal received high support from the food chain including producers, cooperatives, agribusinesses, processors, seed makers, handlers, food and feed manufacturers, lenders, and retailers. NAWG signed onto a letter, with 651 other organizations and companies thanking the Chairman for his “strong leadership aimed at enacting a national uniform solution on biotech labeling.” A markup with the Committee is scheduled for Tuesday, March 1.

Stop by the NAWG Booth at Commodity Classic
The 2016 Commodity Classic will be held in New Orleans, LA, next week. Stop by the NAWG booth, #715, to learn about what’s new in the world of wheat and to sign up for a chance to win a GoPro camera. NAWG board meetings will be held adjacent to Commodity Classic. Check out the full list of board events here.

Due to meetings next week, the next NAWG Weekly Update will be sent on March 10.