New USTR ag negotiator Vetter discusses trade issue

vetter-darci-usgc 7-14Nebraska native Darci Vetter, the new chief agricultural negotiator for the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative, spoke at the recent U.S. Grains Council summer meeting in Omaha.  In a news conference with reporters Vetter touched on several topics, including TPP, T-TIP, COOL, China and other trade issues.  Here are some excerpts from that news conference.

AUDIO: Darci Vetter (11:16 MP3)

As harvest nears, rail concerns continue

One of the speakers at the summer meeting of the U.S. Grains Council in Omaha was Hasan Hyder, assistant vice president for grain and grain products with Union Pacific Railroad.  Hyder says UP is ramping up in preparation for another big grain harvest this fall.  By the end of the year, he says, the railroad will have over 1,500 additional covered hopper cars to handle the grain products business, compared to last year.  But Hyder still anticipates demand to be greater than their car capacity.

Here is an excerpt from comments Hyder made to news media in Omaha.

AUDIO: Hasan Hyder (2:04 MP3)

Chinese issues will be big part of USGC meeting in Omaha

Issues related to China’s rigid stance on biotechnology will be a big part of the discussion at the U.S. Grains Council’s (USGC) annual board of delegates meeting, July 28-30 in Omaha.

In this interview with Brownfield, USGC chairman Julius Schaaf of Randolph, Iowa talks about some of those issues, including the latest news that China now wants all imports of distiller’s dried grains from the U.S. to be officially certified free of the MIR 162 GMO trait.

AUDIO: Julius Schaaf (7:32 MP3)

Ag senators express concerns to EPA chief McCarthy

Republicans on the Senate Agriculture Committee met this week with EPA administrator Gina McCarthy to express their concerns about the agency’s “Waters of the U.S.” proposal and other EPA actions that are viewed as “anti-agriculture”.

In his weekly conference call with reporters, Nebraska Senator Mike Johanns talked about the meeting and how McCarthy responded to their concerns.

AUDIO: Mike Johanns (7:17 MP3)

Changes in the farm economic landscape

oppedahl_davidDavid Oppedahl is a senior business economist in the economic research department at the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago. Oppedahl conducts research on the agricultural sector and rural development as well as conducting microeconomic research. He also directs the Chicago Federal Reserve District’s survey of agricultural banks on agricultural land values and credit conditions.

Oppedahl spoke at the recent Iowa Farm Bureau Economic Summit in Ames, after which Brownfield visited with him about changes in the farm economic landscape.

AUDIO: David Oppedahl (4:10 MP3)

Tyson official: Animal wefare will continue to drive change

The vice president of animal well-being for Tyson Foods, Dean Danilson, says farm animal welfare issues will continue to be “a driver for change” in the meat industry.  And Danilson says those in the meat and livestock industries must continually ask themselves, “Is there a better way to do things?”.

Here is an excerpt from Danilson’s presentation at the recent Iowa Farm Bureau Economic Summit in Ames.

AUDIO: Dean Danilson (12:58 MP3)

Iowa’s ag secretary on RFS delay and EPA’s water rule

At the International Symposium of Beef Animal Welfare in Ames, Iowa, we asked Iowa secretary of agriculture Bill Northey for his thoughts on the delay in the announcement of the Renewable Fuels Standard volumes and the debate over the EPA’s plan to extend its jurisdiction over “Waters of the U.S.”.

AUDIO: Bill Northey (4:10 MP3)

UNL study: Zilmax has no noticeable detrimental effect

A research study conducted in Nebraska concludes that the cattle feed additive Zilmax has no noticeable detrimental effect on cattle health or well-being.

The study was conducted by scientists from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln (UNL) and U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Agricultural Research Service. The study was undertaken after the maker of Zilmax, Merck Animal Health, temporarily suspended sales of the beta-agonist last year when concerns emerged that it might cause lameness in cattle.

During the 26-day study, scientists collected blood, via catheters; body temperature; and video images from 20 heifers. They were divided into two groups, with half receiving Zilmax at the recommended dose and half not receiving it. On the last day of the trial, four days after Zilmax supplementation was discontinued, heifers were exposed to a simulated stress event to mimic the stress response that would be anticipated in cattle being shipped from the feedlot to packing plant.  At the conclusion of the trial, heifers were harvested at UNL and their hearts, liver, lungs, kidneys and adrenal glands were studied.

“Overall, the results of this trial indicate that while there are variations in the body temperature, endocrine and metabolic parameters and histopathology of major organs of Zilmax supplemented heifers, these differences are minor and show no indication that supplementation of Zilmax is detrimental to the health or well-being of cattle,” says UNL animal scientist Ty Schmidt.

Schmidt discusses the study and the results in this interview with Brownfield.

AUDIO: Ty Schmidt (5:57 MP3)

Link to UNL news release

EPA talks water rule on Missouri farm

Thirty-inch drain from Bill Heffernan's upland pond in Missouri

Thirty-inch drain from Bill Heffernan’s upland pond in Missouri

If farmers didn’t need a water permit before they won’t need one with the new rule of the Clean Water Act — That’s what EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy told members of the Kansas City AgriBusiness Council on Thursday, the day after she told that to reporters on a Missouri farm tour.

“Unless you’re really doing something that’s disturbing this in a significant way or adding pollutants downstream you never need to connect with EPA about it. It’s not as if we’re requiring a permit with a new rule that we didn’t have before.”

Ken Kopocis, EPA’s Senior Advisor in the Office of Water, pointed to upland ditches on Bill Heffernan’s farm that he says will NOT be regulated. He says just because a ditch, like the ones on the farm, connects to jurisdictional waters, , does not make the ditch itself jurisdictional.

“In fact, this is the first time that we’re proposing in rule language itself to put language in that says that these upland ditches that are providing the drainage function they were built for are explicitly excluded from the jurisdiction of the Clean Water Act.”

EPA's Gina McCarthy says this water left in channel on Bill Heffernan's upland Missouri farmland won't be regulated

EPA’s Gina McCarthy says this water left in channel on Bill Heffernan’s upland Missouri farmland won’t be regulated

EPA Region 7 Administrator Karl Brooks, based in Kansas City, who was also on the tour said the EPA won’t be knocking at the farm gate.

“All kinds of decisions will need to be made and nobody will ever have to come and talk to the EPA and the Corps of Engineers because they’ll have that suite of practices, they’ll have that clarity that they didn’t have right now. That’s the point of the rule is to give that clarity so guys can make decisions in real time.”

Standard farming practices, whether through USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) programs or not, McCarthy stressed, will be exempt from the rule. She says that’s what her tours of farms and discussions with farmers is all about – “to get it right.”

Audio with Bill Heffernan and Gina McCarthy on farm tour (3:00 mp3)

AUDIO: Bill Heffernan, Karl Brooks, Ken Kopocis (6:30 mp3)

RFA accuses oil companies of ‘strong arm tactics’

The Renewable Fuels Association (RFA) accuses the major oil companies of using “strong arm tactics and covert practices” to prevent and discourage the sale of renewable fuels—especially at stations carrying their brand names.

RFA’s Geoff Cooper says, in many cases, the oil companies make it needlessly expensive or simply impossible for a retailer to offer consumers more ethanol-blend choices, like E15 or E85.

“They do this through highly restrictive franchise and branding agreements; they do this through highly prescriptive fuel supply contracts; and a host of other subversive tactics that essentially prevent or at least significantly discourage retailers from selling greater volumes of renewable fuels,” Cooper says.

RFA president and CEO Bob Dinneen says his group has filed complaints with the Federal Trade Commission, but to no avail. Dinneen says the best to way to ensure that consumers get access to the lower cost ethanol blends is for the EPA to enforce compliance with the Renewable Fuels Standard.

“The RFS was the mechanism that was designed to break the monopolistic hold over the gas pump that the major oil companies have,” Dinneen says. “If we back off from the RFS, we’re rewarding those companies.

“This is not the time to be rewarding those companies that are exercising their market power to deny Americans choice at the pump.”

RFA’s findings are part of new report entitled “Protecting the Monopoly: How Big Oil Covertly Blocks the Sale of Renewable Fuels”. The report includes a Consumer Choice Report Card, which grades some of the largest retail gasoline chains on how well they are doing in providing consumers with alternatives to regular gasoline.

AUDIO: Excerpt from RFA conference call with ag media (15:46 MP3)

Link to RFA news release