Tuesday, January 11, 2022

Farmers urged to use clout on WOTUS rewrite; Biden says he's trying to help them; Vilsack touts cover-crop program

The American Farm Bureau Federation, the nation's largest agriculture organization, is holding its annual convention this week in Atlanta, through tomorrow. Here are some highlights:

Opening the convention on Monday, AFBF President Zippy Duvall urged members to use their political clout to ensure that Agriculture Department climate-change mitigation programs "respect farmers" and urged action on the Environmental Protection Agency's plan to rewrite the regulatory definition of "waters of the United States" in the Clean Water Act.

The Obama administration had rewritten the definition to protect intermittent and seasonal waterways under federal pollution regulations, which AFBF opposed, Chuck Abbott notes for the Food & Environment Reporting Network. The Trump administration rewrote the definition again to scale back protections, but a federal judge rejected it, saying it could lead to serious environmental harm. EPA and the Army Corps of Engineers have sought farmers' input on the planned rewrite.

"It is critical that this administration understands that we should not need a team of lawyers and consultants just to farm our land," Duvall said.

In a recorded speech to delegates Monday, President Biden sought to assure them that he is trying to help farmers prosper and ensure they get fair prices for their crops, Abbott reports: "Biden, who has assailed meatpackers for high profits during the pandemic, pointed to a proposed $1 billion to expand slaughter capacity and efforts to keep ag exports moving despite port congestion."

Biden said, "This isn’t about Republicans or Democrats, red states or blue states. It’s about making sure that your contributions are recognized and your challenges are addressed," Biden said. "Every day, you feed and fuel our country. I want you to know that every day—I mean this —every day you have a partner in the White House."

Immediately after Biden's message, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack took the stage, saying USDA is committed to funding pilot projects to help farmers make more money while helping the administration meet its climate-change mitigation goals. He stressed that such programs must be "voluntary and incentive-based," Jeff Beach reports for AgWeek.

Vilsack announced a conservation program that aims to double the nation's cover-crop plantings to 30 million acres by 2030, Karl Plume reports for Reuters. The agency's Natural Resources Conservation Service has allocated $38 million to help farmers in 11 states plant crops in fields that would otherwise be left fallow. The practice can improve soil health, decrease soil erosion and capture and store carbon. "The investment, made through a partnership with the United Soybean Board, National Corn Growers Association, National Pork Board and others, is the latest farm-level effort by the Biden administration meant to address climate change," Plume reports. (In related news: A newly published study found that the Corn Belt has lost 35 percent of its topsoil since Europeans colonized the area).

Vilsack also called out China for being $16 billion behind on commitments to buy American farm products. In the "Phase One" trade agreement in early 2020, China said it would buy $80 billion in U.S. agriculture, food and seafood exports in 2020-21. But through November, with one month left in the agreement, China had purchased only $56.3 billion, Abbott reports.

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