NAWG Weekly Update: July 10, 2014

NAWG Files Comments on Waters of the U.S. Interpretive Rule
This week NAWG submitted comments on the Interpretive Rule (IR) related to certain conservation practices and “dredge and fill” permits under the Clean Water Act (CWA). The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers released an IR linking 56 Natural Resources Conservation Services (NRCS) conservation practice standards to a “normal farming activity” exemption under the CWA. NAWG is concerned that the conservation practice standards could become the only activities to be considered normal farming activities, and growers’ traditional work with NRCS on voluntary conservation efforts would become more regulatory in nature. The IR also requires those not working within the NRCS program to meet the practice standards to comply with the exemption, but left no flexibility for different requirements that might be imposed by individual states. The agency’s goals of clarity and making things easier for producers were not reached in this proposal and NAWG asked for it to be reconsidered. The comment period for EPA’s larger waters of the U.S. regulation remains open until October and NAWG will also be preparing comments on this regulation. To read the comments, visit the NAWG website.

Under Secretary Scuse Testifies Before House Subcommittee
Today U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Under Secretary for Farm and Foreign Agricultural Services, Michael T. Scuse, testified before the House Agriculture Subcommittee on General Farm Commodities and Risk Management. The subcommittee hearing, chaired by Congressman Mike Conaway (R-Tex.) focused on the implementation of the 2014 farm bill, specifically commodity policy and crop insurance. The majority of the subcommittee’s concerns and questions came from the interim rule that Risk Management Agency (RMA) released last week, which outlined the agency’s plans on implementation of the crop insurance provisions in the 2014 farm bill. There has been some concern from Congress and commodity groups alike about the Actual Production History  (APH) adjustment provision not being available to growers until the 2016 crop year. This provision would allow producers to exclude any yield for any crop that experienced over 50 percent loss nation-wide for that given year. This provision is of particular interest in regions suffering from multi-year disasters. Under Secretary Scuse committed to providing the committee a detailed written explanation by next week, with the issues the agency is encountering during implementation ofthis provision, immediately. NAWG also encourages USDA to take a look at all options to enact this provision as soon as possible. Congressman Conaway released the following statement after the hearing.

House Agriculture Subcommittee Examines Benefits of Biotechnology
The House Agriculture Subcommittee on Horticulture, Research, Biotechnology, and Foreign Agriculture met Wednesday to examine the benefits biotechnology has on the production of agriculture around the globe. The panel was made up of academics as well as a first generation Vermont dairy farmer. The hearing allowed congressional members much needed time to ask detailed questions about the stigma consumers have over the use of biotechnology in production agriculture. A common theme among panel members was the need to effectively communicate how biotechnology benefits consumers and the global society, such as fighting malnutrition in developing countries, or protecting the environment by using less herbicides as crops become more resistant. For more information on the hearing, visit the House Agriculture Committee.

Highway Trust Fund Discussion
Discussion over the Highway Trust Fund continued on Capitol Hill this week with the House Ways and Means Committee releasing a bipartisan plan that would finance federal highway projects through May 2015. The proposal would also generate $10 billion to keep the Fund from becoming insolvent. Meanwhile, the Senate has said they are close to a plan of their own, but has yet to release it publicly. The Highway Trust fund was originally established in 1956 to finance the Interstate Highway System, paid for with a gasoline tax. If Congress does not act to finance the Trust Fund in the next fifteen days before they adjourn for August, federal highway funding will see a 28 percent cut on August 1. NAWG actively follows surface transportation policy being considered by Congress and administered by the Department of Transportation and other agencies. Learn more about NAWG’s Transportation Policy.

Congress Reacts to EPA Water Regulation
Congress continues to review the EPA’s Water of the U.S. regulation and has taken action to limit the agency’s ability to finalize the proposal. This week the House Science Committee held a hearing with EPA Deputy Administrator Bob Perciasepe, who defended the regulation. On Monday, the House Appropriations Committee released their version of the fiscal year 2015 Interior and Environment Appropriations bill that restricts funding for EPA related to the Waters of the U.S. regulation. A similar provision is included in the House Energy & Water Appropriations bill for fiscal year 2015. This week the White House issued a veto threat against that bill citing the provision as an element in it’s decision. In the meantime, EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy has been in Missouri to clarify the misconceptions about the proposed regulation, but has been quoted by the press as saying some concerns from the agriculture community are “ludicrous.”

USDA Moves Ahead with Farm Bill Implementation
Last Monday, USDA’s RMA released an interim rule that outlined the agency’s plans on implementation of the crop insurance provisions authorized in the 2014 farm bill. The rule included guidance on a number of provisions including beginning farmers and ranchers, conservation compliance, changes to sodsaver, separation of irrigated/non-irrigated enterprise units and coverage levels, correction of errors and APH adjustment. According to USDA, the majority of these provisions will be implemented for the 2015 crop year with the exclusion of the APH adjustment, which RMA has said will not be available to producers until 2016. Also included in the rule was RMA’s intent to roll out two new programs for the 2015 crop year including the Supplemental Coverage Option (SCO); which is additional coverage a grower can purchase based on expected county revenue. RMA states that SCO will be available in 80 percent of wheat counties for 2015 and availability maps should be available for winter wheat later this month. The second new program, the Stacked Income Protection Plan for cotton producers, is also on target to be available for the 2015 crop year, according to USDA.  NAWG is pleased that the implementation process is moving forward and will continue to work with USDA throughout the process. The rule has been made available to the public and RMA has posted some FAQ’s about the rule on their website.