Farmers Tout Efforts to Reduce Emissions Amid Climate Pressure (via CQ)

Witnesses at a Senate hearing Tuesday pushed back against an environmental narrative they say has demonized agriculture and overlooked farmers and ranchers’ efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Several witnesses and senators at a Senate Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry Committee meeting alluded to congressional Democrats’ broad policy statement on climate change and income equality, the Green New Deal. They worried about potential federal mandates resulting from the statement’s call for the government to work with farmers and ranchers to reduce pollution and greenhouse gases as much as possible, and its request for sustainable farming and land use practices.

Debbie Lyons-Blythe, a Kansas rancher, and Matthew Rezac, a Nebraska corn and soybean grower, said they and others in agriculture already manage their lands to sequester carbon in grasslands and use technology to control erosion, protect water quality and reduce soil erosion. Lyons-Blythe and Rezac said agriculture is working to address climate change.

But Rezac said many in agriculture are struggling after five years of low prices and will be cautious about taking on new expenses.

“I know the weather is changing, but I try to control what I can control,” he said.

Rezac and Lyons-Blythe found a receptive audience. Chairman Pat Roberts, R-Kan., and ranking member Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., said agriculture is dealing with extreme swings in weather, drought and other climate change-related challenges.

Frank Mitloehner, a University of California-Davis professor and air quality expert, blamed a 2006 global study by the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization for the view among policy makers and the general public that livestock is a major source of greenhouse gases.

Mitloehner, who has worked on federal and international environmental projects on livestock and the food system, said the FAO study used different methods in measuring greenhouse gas emissions from livestock production and from cars, trucks and other modes of transportation. Researchers concluded livestock production worldwide accounted for 18 percent of greenhouse gas emissions, exceeding transportation.

In the U.S., the Environmental Protection Agency ranks agriculture as the fifth-largest source of greenhouse gas emissions at 9 percent. Mitloehner said 3.9 percent of that total comes from livestock. He said emissions have declined by 11.3 percent since 1961 as the number of U.S. dairy cows and beef cattle has fallen. In 1950, there were 25 million dairy cows, and today there are 9 million cows. Today’s beef cattle total 90 million heads, down from 140 million in 1970.

Mitloehner told the committee the study has made animal agriculture a target of climate change activists.

Tom Vilsack, Agriculture secretary in the Obama administration, said Congress should see climate change as an opportunity to invest in testing out technology and practices that will give farmers and ranchers tools to run their operations on a net-zero emission basis. Vilsack, president and CEO of the U.S. Dairy Export Council, called for more funding of public agricultural research into products from farm and ranch waste that reduce emissions and provide farmers with ways to increase their incomes.

He also said the Agriculture Department needs to speed up regulatory reviews so U.S. farmers don’t fall behind international competitors developing ways to adapt to climate change. He cited an animal feed additive currently under review in the European Union that will reduce emissions of methane, a damaging greenhouse gas. The EU will likely finish its review in about a year while Vilsack said a similar review in the U.S. could take two or more years.

Biofuel Groups Maintain Hot Spending Amid Ethanol Debate (via CQ)

Ethanol groups maintained their strong lobbying presence in the year’s first quarter, a pivotal time for them as the EPA considers a rule to allow the year-round sale of E15, a gasoline variety mixed with 15 percent ethanol.

The use of E15 between June and September is banned under the Renewable Fuel Standard that sets minimum levels of plant-derived products to be used in transportation fuels. But biofuels advocacy groups and corn-state members of Congress have urged the EPA to lift that barrier, and the public comment period on an EPA proposal to do so closed Monday.

While factions of the oil and natural gas industries have warned they will sue over the proposal, putting the EPA rule into force would mark a long-held goal of the ethanol community.

“With year-round E15, EPA has the opportunity to give American farmers and producers the ability to grow greater demand and expand market access for their homegrown fuel,” Emily Skor, CEO of Growth Energy, an ethanol trade organization, said at a March field hearing EPA held in Ypsilanti, Mich.

Lobbying reports filed with the Senate show an uptick in spending from key biofuels groups, including Sioux Falls, S.D.-headquartered ethanol firm POET LLC, and the trade groups Renewable Fuels Association and Growth Energy.

POET spent significantly more compared to the final quarter of 2018, jumping from $170,000 to $360,000. Growth Energy also reported a spike in lobbying costs, increasing from $410,000 to $440,000 between quarters. The National Corn Growers Association spent $110,000 in the first quarter of 2019, versus $100,000 the period before. And the Renewable Fuels Association, which has yet to disclose its latest in-house lobbying costs, spent $60,000 from January through March on an outside lobbying firm, compared to $20,000 the previous quarter.

Frank Macchiarola, of the American Petroleum Institute, said on an April 25 call that API would sue if the rule is finalized. EPA has said it would finish the rule-making process by June, in time for E15 to be sold over the summer.

Critics of the Renewable Fuel Standard say it is harmful to the environment, creates a false market and hurts vehicles not designed to run on ethanol-blended fuels.

“EPA should focus on protecting consumers from mis-fueling,” said Nicole Vasilaros of the National Marine Manufacturers Association, which opposed the proposal. “It’s bad for the environment and it’s bad for the country.”

RFS backers say the program is vital to lower greenhouse gas emissions. But the environmental legacy of the policy is questionable: It has consistently missed its statutory targets to cut greenhouse gas emissions, according to a General Accountability Office report published in 2016.

At least one biofuel group decreased in-house lobbying. The National Corn Growers Association spent $110,000 in the first quarter, down from $130,000 in the previous period.

USDA Notice Regarding Importation of Hemp Seeds

The passing of the Agriculture Improvement Act of 2018 (2018 Farm Bill, Section 10113) removed hemp and hemp seeds from the Drug Enforcement Administration’s (DEA) schedule of Controlled Substances. This action removed hemp and hemp seeds from DEA authority for products containing THC levels not greater than 0.3 percent. Therefore, DEA no longer has authority to require hemp seed permits for import purposes.
 
U.S. producers and hemp seed exporters have requested assistance from USDA to provide an avenue for hemp seed exports to the United States. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) regulates the importation of all seeds for planting to ensure safe agricultural trade. Under this authority, USDA is providing an alternative way for the safe importation of hemp seeds into the United States.
 
Importation of Hemp Seed from Canada
 
Hemp seeds can be imported into the United States from Canada if accompanied by either: 1) a phytosanitary certification from Canada’s national plant protection organization to verify the origin of the seed and confirm that no plant pests are detected; or 2) a Federal Seed Analysis Certificate (SAC, PPQ Form 925) for hemp seeds grown in Canada.
 
Importation of Hemp Seed from Countries other than Canada
 
Hemp seeds may be imported into the United States from countries other than Canada if accompanied by a phytosanitary certificate from the exporting country’s national plant protection organization to verify the origin of the seed and confirm that no plant pests are detected.
 
Hemp seed shipments may be inspected upon arrival at the first port of entry by Customs and Border Protection (CBP) to ensure USDA regulations are met, including certification and freedom from plant pests.
 
Questions or requests for information regarding hemp can be sent to farmbill.hemp@usda.gov.
 
More information about industrial hemp production is available at http://www.ams.usda.gov/rules-regulations/farmbill-hemp.

Trade Jitters, Hemp Concerns Top Appropriations Hearing (via CQ)

Senate appropriators had trade woes and the promise of industrial hemp on their minds Thursday as they sought assurances from Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue of better times for farmers in their states.

Perdue testified before the Senate Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee on the president’s $15.7 billion request for discretionary funding for the Agriculture Department. The request is more than $4.2 billion lower than the enacted level for fiscal 2019 and includes cuts to research, rural housing, international humanitarian food programs and other areas popular with lawmakers.

Subcommittee members asked about the proposed reductions, but indicated they are likely to ignore the proposals as they have with previous Trump administration budget requests.

Chairman John Hoeven, R-N.D., said he’ll instead push to increase funding for the department to implement the 2018 farm bill (PL 115-334), a priority for farm state lawmakers. Perdue said he would welcome a bump up in the $15 million the farm bill provided.

The farm bill removed hemp from the Controlled Substances Act and opened the door to expanded production of the versatile plant, which is part of the cannabis family that lacks the high of marijuana. A number of states authorized limited production under research provisions of the 2014 farm bill. Hemp seems to have captured the interest of farmers looking for a new cash crop.

Jeff Merkley, an Oregon Democrat and subcommittee ranking member, and Jon Tester, a Montana Democrat, pressed Perdue to expedite the release of regulations for states to follow. He disappointed them with a proposed timetable that aims for release of hemp rules in time for the 2020 crop year rather than 2019

Perdue also said he was unaware of complaints Tester said he has received from Montana farmers that the Drug Enforcement Administration is blocking the importation of Canadian hemp seeds they need for planting. The agency told CQ that it no longer has oversight of hemp because of the farm bill.

Trade Worries

But trade was a recurring theme from both Republicans and Democrats, who have called on the Trump administration to lift steel and aluminum tariffs, particularly on North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) partners Mexico and Canada.

“We’re advocating to the president that he can accomplish his goals in revitalizing the steel industry and aluminum industry in the U.S. through a quota system that is combined with a tariff when they exceed that quota,” Perdue said in a question from Wisconsin Democrat Tammy Baldwin. “Hopefully, he will come to see that is an effective tool to continue to support our domestic steel industry as well.”

Baldwin asked about the status of national security Section 232 steel and aluminum tariffs the United States imposed on the trading partners in 2018. Leaders in Canada and Mexico say their legislatures will not vote to approve the proposed United States-Mexico-Canada trade agreement to replace NAFTA unless the tariffs are lifted.

Congressional lawmakers whose constituents have been affected by retaliatory duties Canada and Mexico have placed on U.S. goods want the U.S. tariffs and retaliatory tariffs ended before they are willing to vote on the agreement. Baldwin said that Mexico’s retaliatory tariffs have cut Wisconsin cheese exports at a time when dairy farmers are struggling with several years of low market prices.

Perdue, a booster of Trump’s policies in general, is considered a pragmatist on trade. He is credited along with others political leaders of convincing Trump in April 2018 to remain in NAFTA until a replacement trade pact is in place. The proposed agreement would replace NAFTA if it is approved by national legislatures in the three countries.

Hoeven asked when U.S.-China talks could wrap up and agricultural exports to China rebound. China has made purchases of soybeans since the trade talks started, but the volume is still below what it was before Beijing cut its purchases in retaliation for U.S. tariffs on Chinese exports valued at $250 billion.

“While we’re negotiating, what about additional sales?” asked Hoeven, who added that farmers are concerned about low prices and lost sales.

“I’m cautiously optimistic, but with China it’s never over until it’s over,” Perdue said. “If we can consummate a deal with China it will be extremely good for U.S. agriculture as well as the U.S. economy.”

Perdue said talks also include non-tariff issues that are important to agriculture such as standardized protocols for inspections of farm goods.

Hoeven suggested that if talks are not resolved soon, “that they continue purchases as a sign of good faith while the negotiations are going on.”

Hemp boom just starting? (via The Land)

The following comments were shared January 24, 2018 by Dave Ladd, President of RDL & Associates, with Dick Hagen of “The Land”.

David Ladd, long-time observer and reporter of the Washington scene didn’t exactly say industrial hemp acres were about to explode across the Midwest.  But in a private visit with him at Jan 23 Minnesota Ag Expo co-hosted by Minnesota Corn Growers Association and Minnesota Soybean Growers Association Ladd commented, “Since passage in new Farm Bill there has been a lot of talk.   The boom continues to boom.  Even prior to new Farm Bill lots of talk about industrial hemp making inroads into U.S. agriculture.   Kentucky is already #1 hemp producing state in the Nation.

“U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell represents Kentucky.  When he takes interest in an issue you tend to pay attention.  So now it is signed into law as a legal crop under the new U.S. Farm Bill.  But it’s one thing to legislate it into law; it’s another thing to administer it.  Yes, industrial hemp is a distant cousin of marijuana.  So far FDA has not given their total blessing. Lenders would most necessary need that approval before getting into financial support of hemp farmers and processors.

“It’s one thing to plant the crop, process the crop and have developing a market for it.  So lots of issues coming up; lots of questions yet to be answered.  I’m not saying that in a negative way.  Our firm (RDL & Associates) has contacts in 25 states.  Some of those ‘trip wires’ are now going off in various states. Washington state is seeing a certain set of issues in relation to industrial hemp.  Some states are farther behind on this issue.   I would say Kentucky and Minnesota have been leaders.  States such as North Dakota, South Dakota and Washington are playing catch up.”

Ladd predicts Lenders will have questions about the processing and marketing aspects of the crop.  He also predicts processors and market developers will quickly explore and develop new products made from hemp. “There’s no shortage of ideas in an entrepreneurial based society. I have every confidence this ‘new crop’ won’t be lacking creative thinkers on new ideas, new concepts to bring this crop into the market place.  Right now it appears hemp oil is the highest value product.”

But Ladd also cautions that industrial hemp is not going to replace corn and soybeans; at best it likely will become an interesting alternative crop to take some of the sting out of the current ‘break even’ scenario on these two major crops.

It appears the Minnesota Department of Agriculture will be the governing agency on this crop.  They will administer the licensing, the yearly fees structure of being a grower plus the field inspection of growers and processors so that all safeguards are in place.

Ladd’s take on what’s going on in Washington D.C. these days?  His courtesy answer was “mostly just a lot of positioning. Both parties are playing to their respective base.  Yes, I do think the President will deliver his State of the Union message. Logic would say it should be in the House Chamber which can accommodate both groups..  But only time will tell.”

Editor’s note: Since this Jan 23 visit with Ladd these D.C. happenings: The President ‘reopened’ the Federal Government and he has been ‘Okayed’ by House Speaker Pelosi for his State of the Union address February 5.

 

Issue Update: Post-Shutdown Impacts and Trade

Dave Ladd, President of RDL & Associates, will be presenting this Friday at the Linder Farm Network Outlook Meeting in Red Wing, MN.  He recently spoke w/ Linda Brekke to provide a preview of issues he will cover, including impacts of the recent government shutdown on USDA, trade with China, renewable fuels and industrial hemp.

Issue Update: Post-Shutdown and Trade (Part 1)

Issue Update: Post-Shutdown and Trade (Part 2)

For additional information and insights, please contact RDL & Associates at rdlassociatesga@gmail.com

2018 U.S. Hemp Crop Report released (via Vote Hemp)

Vote Hemp, the nation’s leading grassroots hemp advocacy organization, has released its 2018 U.S. Hemp Crop Report. The report documents state-by-state progress of hemp legislation passed in 2018, reported acreage of hemp grown, identifies states with active hemp pilot farming programs and advocacy work the organization has lead over the past year leading up to the federal legalization of hemp through the signing of the 2018 Farm Bill. To view the complete 2018 U.S. Hemp Crop Report, please visit: https://www.votehemp.com/u-s-hemp-crop-report/.

“We’ve seen hemp cultivation significantly expand in the U.S. in 2018, with over triple the number of acres planted in hemp compared to last year and the addition of 4 more states with hemp programs,” said Eric Steenstra, President of Vote Hemp. “Now that we have lifted federal prohibition on hemp farming, it’s time to invest our energy in expanding hemp cultivation and the market for hemp products across the country so that all can reap the benefits of this versatile, historic American crop.”

Since the passage of Section 7606 of the 2014 Farm Bill, “Legitimacy of Industrial Hemp Research,” hemp cultivation in the U.S. has grown rapidly. The number of acres of hemp grown across 23 states totaled 78,176 in 2018—more than triple the number of acres from the previous year.  State licenses to cultivate hemp were issued to 3,544 farmers and researchers; and 40 universities conducted research on the crop, more than double the number of licenses issued in 2017. The new 2018 Farm Bill, signed into law by the President on December 20, 2018, includes Section 10113 titled “Hemp Production,” which removes hemp from the Controlled Substances Act, places full federal regulatory authority of hemp with USDA, and allows State departments of agriculture to submit hemp program plans for approval and regulate hemp cultivation per their State specific programs.

In addition to defining hemp as cannabis that contains no more than 0.3% THC by dry weight, the 2018 Farm Bill asserts a ‘whole plant’ definition of hemp, including plant extracts; and removes roadblocks to the rapidly growing hemp industry in the U.S., notably by authorizing and encouraging access to federal research funding for hemp, and removing restrictions on banking, water rights, and other regulatory roadblocks the hemp industry currently faces. The bill also explicitly authorizes crop insurance for hemp. The full text of the hemp provisions in the Farm Bill of 2018 may be found at:  https://www.votehemp.com/2018farmbill. For more details on the specific hemp provisions in the 2018 Farm Bill, please check out Vote Hemp’s blog post, “Hemp in the Farm Bill: What Does It Mean?”https://www.VoteHemp.com/hempinthefarmbill.

Among the fastest-growing categories in the natural foods industry, hemp seed is a rich source of Omega-3 and Omega-6 essential fatty acids (EFAs), providing both SDA and GLA, highly-digestible protein, and naturally-occurring vitamins and minerals, such as vitamin E and iron. An excellent source of dietary fiber, hemp seed is also a complete protein—meaning it contains all ten essential amino acids, with no enzyme inhibitors, making it more digestible by the human body. Advancements in hemp research and manufacturing demonstrate the remarkable versatility and product-potential for hemp. Hemp bast fiber has shown promising potential to replace graphene in supercapacitor batteries, which could then be used to power electric cars and handheld electric devices and tools. Hemp fiber can also be used to create environmentally friendly packaging materials, and hard bio-plastics for use in everything from airplanes to car parts. Hemp houses are also on the rise, as hempcrete, which is energy-efficient, non-toxic, resistant to mold, insects and fire, has many advantages to synthetic building materials, lumber and concrete.

To date, forty-one states have defined industrial hemp as distinct and removed barriers to its production. These states are able to take immediate advantage of the industrial hemp research and pilot program provision, Section 7606 of the Farm Bill: Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Hawaii, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Tennessee, Utah, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, West Virginia, Wisconsin, and Wyoming.

Industrial Hemp: Emerging Issues and the Need for Engagement

With passage of the Federal Farm Bill, the growth of industrial hemp as an alternative crop will eventually lead to new markets and the need for processing facilities.  The federal legislation removed hemp plants and viable hemp seeds from the federal list of controlled substances but issues are beginning to emerge at the state level.

Hemp-based products such as Cannabidiol (CBD) oil have grown in popularity as natural remedies for pain, nausea, seizures, anxiety and other ailments.  Although hemp-based products like CBD oil are legal and contain little or no tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the main compound in marijuana that provides a “high”, some people could still have problems at work when faced with a drug screening.

In Kentucky, legislation has been introduced that would protect employees using hemp-based products by establishing an appeals process for public employees.  As currently written provisions for an appeal process would be mandatory for public employers and suggested for private companies.

Kentucky lawmakers are also drafting legislation for labeling requirements that they hope will further protect hemp product users.

In Washington, a small number of hemp farmers and processors continue to operate under state Department of Agriculture rules written when federal law made no distinction between hemp and marijuana.  Policymakers are also considering acreage and licensing fees, the manufacturing CBD oil from hemp grown in Washington and an existing regulation that prohibits growing hemp within 4 miles of marijuana.

These are two examples of emerging issues and we expect more to surface as the industrial hemp provisions in the federal farm bill are implemented and the industry continues to evolve.  There may be similar or additional issues in your state and RDL & Associates wants to work with you to navigate the process.

The strategic partnerships between RDL & Associates and firms in Washington, D.C. and throughout the U.S. provides unique opportunities for clients to engage on these and other issues at the federal and state levels of government.

Federal and state lobbying are not mutually exclusive and our unique model creates additional opportunities and efficiencies, thereby providing a true team approach when it comes to an organization’s management of their political capital.

For additional information or to discuss how we might assist in monitoring and engaging on issues, please contact us at rdlassociatesga@gmail.com.