Commerce Department to investigate Mexican sugar imports

The U.S. Commerce Department says it will investigate charges that Mexico is dumping sugar cane and sugar beets below cost on the U.S. market. The American Sugar Alliance filed a complaint with the Commerce Department and the U.S. International Trade Commission in March charging “The Mexican sugar industry, 20 percent of which is owned and operated by the Mexican government, has rapidly increased exports to the United States in recent years, rising from 9 percent of the U.S. market in FY2012 to nearly 18 percent in FY2013. And, according to recently updated U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) data, Mexico is accelerating its rate of exportation in FY2014.”

The ASA contends the increases are “being fueled by substantial subsidies and by dumping margins of 45 percent or more.” The organization contends the Mexican action will cost U.S. producers nearly $1 billion this year.

The U.S. International Trade Commission is responsible for determining whether or not domestic producers are injured by dumped and subsidized imports. It is expected to make a preliminary determination in May.

Mexico’s Agriculture Ministry disputes the charges saying all of their exports are legal.


SDFU president suspicious of rail/oil connection

A member of the National Farmers Union Board says the problem with railways putting grain shipments on the back burner is as bad as it’s ever been and congressional investigation is likely needed. Doug Sombke, President of the South Dakota Farmers Union, says the Surface Transportation Board (STB) is not taking the issue seriously enough, “It’s very suspicious to think that now all this oil is being developed and they’re shipping all this oil that the railroad and the oil industry aren’t working together to eliminate the effects of ethanol. Because we all know that ethanol has kept the price of oil down.”

He tells Brownfield the NFU and other groups are considering a petition to ask for an investigation rather than STB just holding hearings. A South Dakota County Farmers Union official testified at one of those hearings last week.

Sombke tells Brownfield Ag News the problem is going to get worse this spring with less fertilizer likely being shipped to plants and, worse yet, the impact on the basis, “The difference between the Chicago Board of Trade and what we’re getting paid at the elevator is huge at this time and this should be a time when it’s at the lowest. If it continues at this rate, into fall harvest, it could be double what we’re seeing today.”

Sombke says Burlington/Northern, Santa Fe and Canadian Pacific need to be more reliable. He says the railroads are not charged a penalty the way grain farmers are if contracted grain shipments are late.

On Wednesday, the Surface Transportation Board said it would require the rail industry to report on its delivery of fertilizer to farmers in the upper Midwest to ensure it arrives for the upcoming growing season.

Interview with Doug Sombke (11:00 mp3)

GMO labeling bill advances in Vermont



A GMO-labeling bill is working its way through the state legislature in Vermont. The House passed a bill late last year which would require products containing genetically modified ingredients to state-so on the label. The Vermont State Senate passed a similar bill this week. That bill will now be reconciled with the House version, once that is completed the bill will go to the governor for his signature.David Zuckerman is vice-chair of the State Senate Agriculture Committee, he says Vermont has been quite aggressive in dealing with GMOs in the past including the requirement that seed companies annually report how much GM seed they sell in the state each year.

He says up until a few years ago, they would not have considered a labeling law for fear of legal challenges but given recent court rulings around the country, they decided to move forward. The bill passed by the State Senate would require that if a product may or does contain genetically modified ingredients it be indicated in the list of ingredients on the package. It also prohibits the use of terms like “natural” on products containing GMOs. Zuckerman says the whole premise is to give consumers the information and let them decide: “it’s a disclosure, nothing says they have to change anything that they do.” The specific rules will be written by the Vermont Attorney General.

Meat and milk products would not require labeling, Zuckerman says meat labeling is highly regulated at the federal level and “there’s not much evidence showing secondary consumption as having any real risk.” He says the bigger question is with direct consumption of GMO products.

The Senator says while opponents say the law would be in violation of free speech or compelled speech laws, supporters contend consumers have the right to know what is in a product. As for inhibiting interstate commerce, Zuckerman says suppliers can easily and at little cost, put a sticker on the labels of products going into Vermont or choose to not sell the product in the state. The bill does create a fund to help with the legal defense of the law.

Unlike states where ballot initiatives have been attempted, Zuckerman says there has not been a lot of pressure on the legislators from outside sources. “I think the people who are opposed to the bill look at Vermont as a lost-cause from their perspective and decided to save their resources.”

Implementation is targeted for July, 2016.

AUDIO:Zuckerman talks about the bill 13:40 mp3


Bill aims to stop dropped calls

A bill has been introduced in the U.S. Senate to stop dropped land-line and mobile phone calls in rural areas. Senator Tim Johnson says the problem of dropped calls is a serious public safety threat – as police dispatchers and doctors have experienced dropped calls in critical situations. Johnson says the Federal Communications Commission, FCC, believes third party “least cost routers” to connect calls is a leading cause of the problem. Johnson says some intermediate providers are not properly completing calls in order to avoid higher access charges with rural telephone networks. He calls that discriminatory.

Johnson’s bill calls for reforms to help end the practice by having voice-providers register with the FCC and “comply with basic service quality standards.”

Animal food industry weighs in on regs

The American Feed Industry Association (AFIA) and associated groups take issue with the FDA’s proposed regulations for animal food safety under the Food Safety and Modernization Act.

Richard Sellers, regulatory affairs director of the AFIA, tells Brownfield the safety record in the animal feed and pet food industries is quite good, “We’ve got an enormous safety record in our industry. Our association is 104 years old and was actually formed to promote putting out safe ingredients and safe product.”   Sellers says the proposed regulations follow human food regulations too closely and are too prescriptive, “They tell you exactly what they want to do and that’s a big concern of ours because it doesn’t allow for innovation in terms of new equipment and new ideas that come along if you’re tied to a regulation that doesn’t allow you any wiggle room.”

Sellers says the FDA did not do a cost/benefit analysis of the new regulations which one company estimates to be way out of balance, “You’ve got an over five-times cost-over-benefit but what’s an agency to do when Congress and the President mandate that these rules must be put out?”

The AFIA submitted comments to the FDA at the end of March on what it says is “the most massive overhaul of animal food industry regulations since 1958.”

Interview with Richard Sellers (13:00 mp3)

Not much support for PEDv compensation

The question of whether the federal government should provide financial assistance to pork producers impacted by the PED virus is being discussed in the nation’s capital.

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack says the USDA’s disaster assistance programs don’t really apply in this case.

“The Livestock Indemnity Program is really designed when Mother Nature causes a problem,” Vilsack says. “The ELAP program is really focused on sort of niche areas of trees and honeybees—and there’s only 20 million dollars in that account—and if you were to suggest that that’s a source of compensation, it would have to be ten times that size to deal with the losses that have occurred.”

Vilsack says it would be up to Congress to approve disaster assistance for pork producers.  But Iowa Senator Chuck Grassley, a member of the Senate Ag Committee, is doubtful that will happen.

“I have not heard enough talk among members of Congress on this issue—or even on the ag committee—that I can say that there’s a nucleus to move it along,” Grassley says.

Grassley says the cost of such a program would make it a tough sell in Congress.

ASA applauds tax extenders package

The American Soybean Association (ASA) is applauding the proposed tax extenders package released this week by the Senate Finance Committee.

The package includes a two-year extension of the dollar-per-gallon biodiesel tax incentive. It would also reinstate the pre-2014 expensing amounts for farm infrastructure and equipment under Section 179.

Both issues are among the ASA’s key policy priorities for the coming year.

EPA’s McCarthy defends CWA rule

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) administrator Gina McCarthy disputes claims from some politicians and farm groups that the proposed new Clean Water Act (CWA) rule will require farmers to obtain new permits for certain farming practices.

Appearing before the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works Wednesday, the day after the new CWA rule was released, McCarthy said that farming practices that do not require permits today won’t need them when the rule becomes law.

“It’s not taking away any of the agricultural exemptions,” McCarthy says. “What’s it trying to do is provide clarity so you don’t have to go and ask. 

“That’s what this rule does.  It actually worked with the agricultural community to identify those practices that we could highlight.  It even set up a really good process to expand on that, but it didn’t take away a single agricultural exemption that currently exists.”

But some farm-state senators remain skeptical, among them Wyoming Republican Senator John Barrasso.

“So what about the farmers and ranchers who use these 53 new covered practices, but don’t specifically follow the Natural Resources Conservation Services’ federal definition of these farming practices perfectly to a tee in the newly expanded federal waters,” Barrasso asked McCarthy.  “Would they need to get a new Clean Water Act permit or be penalized?

“Nobody needs to get a permit under this rule, should it go forward as proposed, that didn’t need it today,” McCarthy’s responded.

The National Cattlemen’s Beef Association has criticized the new rule saying it expands the federal government’s CWA jurisdiction and will require cattlemen to obtain “costly and burdensome” permits to take care of everyday chores like moving cattle across a wet pasture or cleaning out a dugout.

Barrasso joined Nebraska Republican Senator Deb Fischer in asking McCarthy to extend an announced 90-day comment period to 180 days. The public-comment period does not begin until EPA posts the rule in the federal register.

AUDIO: McCarthy-Barrasso exchange (:52 MP3)

Rural Affairs group says EPA rule is good

The Center for Rural Affairs says the proposed rule from the EPA and Corps of Engineers clarifying which waterways fall under the Clean Water Act is good for rural America.

But, the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA) says the rule is a vast overreach and will be detrimental to farmers and ranchers. Ashley McDonald, NCBA’s environmental counsel says,  “You know, it’s very costly. It’s going to be very time consuming and it’s going to be a big headache for cattle producers across the country.”

John Crabtree is Media Director for the Center for Rural Affairs tells Brownfield Ag News, “I think the NCBA’s reaction is where the overreach is.”

Crabtree says the rule provides clarity and removes the confusion caused by Supreme Court rulings that were vague about which waterways were covered, “The water that falls on and crosses our land and feeds the rivers is crucial to agriculture but it’s also crucial to the people downstream that drink it. And, so, we have a shared responsibility and this rule helps everyone see what their role is and what their responsibility is.”  Both groups urge people to submit comments on the rule – which will be open for public comment for 90 days.

Interview with John Crabtree (9:00 mp3)

Biofuel groups want incentives extended

A group of biofuel trade organizations wants Congress to extend advanced biofuel tax incentives, including the Second Generation Biofuel Producer Tax Credit. Among the groups is the National Biodiesel Board. Their federal affairs vice president, Anne Steckel, tells Brownfield that extending the incentives would help.

“Clearly, having a tax incentive propels the biodiesel industry and continues to help it grow in a very healthy and sustainable way, so we’re very encouraged that Congress is considering taking up this tax extenders as soon as possible,” said Steckel during a recent interview at the board’s Washington, D.C. headquarters.

The letter is to Senate Finance Chair Ron Wyden and Ranking Member Orrin Hatch asking for the extension of the credits. Progress is being made on dozens of projects in the final stages of development, according to the letter. Biofuel tax credits have allowed biodiesel and other biofuels to reduce the cost of production and develop production technologies, said Steckel.

“The tax incentive has really encouraged the production and growth in a sustainable way of the biodiesel industry,” said Steckel, “it’s also helped us increase our infrastructure and our development.”

The groups urge Wyden and Hatch to move quickly to extend expired biofuel tax provisions, according to the letter, in the interests of energy security, job creation and forward-looking policy.

The NAFB News Service contributed to this article.

AUDIO: Anne Steckel (2 min. MP3)