Thursday, June 22, 2017

Ag Groups Urge USDA to Revamp Biotech Reg Proposal

Washington--Proposed revisions to USDA’s biotechnology regulations take some very positive and bold steps in the right direction, but major changes are needed to ensure the new rules encourage innovation, according to the American Farm Bureau Federation and 102 other agricultural organizations.

“We are supportive of USDA’s efforts to modernize its regulations, ensuring they are up-to-date with the best-available science and utilize the more than 30 years of experience USDA has in reviewing the safety of these crops,”t he groups wrote in a letter to the Ag Secretary.

The groups also noted their appreciation for USDA’s strong position regarding the exclusion from the proposal of products of new breeding methods, such as gene editing. Many of the products developed using these new methods are strikingly similar to those developed using more traditional plant breeding methods.

Despite these positive aspects, there are several shortcomings that are holding the groups back from supporting the proposal as a whole.

Among the major concerns are researchers’ and developers’ inability to learn the regulatory status of new genetically engineered organisms without undergoing complex risk assessments, providing little clarity about which products will be subject to regulation.

The requirement that risk assessments would be conducted for plant products based only upon the technology used in their production, rather than actual risk, is another problem. “This runs counter to USDA’s 30-plus years of experience regulating biotechnology,” the groups noted.

With the shift of the regulatory burden from commercialization stages to research and development phases, each new GE plant variety will have to undergo a complex risk assessment and comment period before a single plant can be planted in a small-scale field trial. In addition, the proposed assessment process will likely not accommodate the scale of U.S. research and development, which could result in many products being stuck in regulatory limbo.

Also at issue are the barriers to innovation that would be raised under the proposal’s expansion of authority under Part 340, which creates a redundant weed risk regulatory process. This process currently works under USDA’s Part 360 regulations.

Finally, USDA’s plans for major changes to the current regulatory system may have unintended consequences for other regulatory agencies, and domestic and international markets, and lead to significant litigation risks, the groups cautioned.

“We are concerned that these flaws will have a significant negative impact on innovation, particularly for small companies and universities hoping to develop agricultural products for specific regional or environmental needs or to develop minor-use crops that could be important domestically and internationally,” they wrote, adding that USDA can better meet its goals with fewer risks and disruptions by charting a different regulatory course.

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Just in

Cattle market still bullish

Washington—The cattle market has been locked in an uptrend since last October.

US cattle futures climbed to the point that several live cattle contracts notched lifetime highs. Beef prices usually drop in June after the Memorial Day weekend, but prices kept climbing and sales are strong.

“Any time we can move beef, it’s a good thing, said cattle rancher Chris Dalley of Pingree. “Whenever there is a demand, the prices go up. Opening up China definitely keeps it going, thats another outlet we can sell to, and things haven't looked this good in a while.

“When the first shipments start in July, I think it’s going to help bring more stability to the market and we’ll be back in the black, said producer Gerald Marchant of Oakley.

One of the reasons for higher prices is tighter supply.

University of Idaho Ag Extension economist Hernan Tejeda says opening the China market is just part of the beef comeback.

“Herd size across the nation has expanded, cattlemen are holding onto cattle. The summer holidays always drive up prices, but supply is tightening. There has been strong herd expansion since 2015, ranchers think they can sell at a higher price so they’re hanging on to cattle.”

For how long no nobody knows but analysts say theres renewed optimism that export activity will stay strong thanks to reopening the China market. After the final details are worked out, China will see the first shipments of US beef in late July, the first shipments in more than 14 years.

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Water Rights Protection Act

Legislation Offers Relief from Federal Water Extortion

WASHINGTON– The Water Rights Protection Act, introduced in the House today, could bring U.S. ranchers much-needed relief from ongoing efforts by the federal government to extort privately held water rights from law-abiding citizens, according to the American Farm Bureau Federation.

“It’s time to put a stop to federal strong-arming of ranchers by a government that owns the majority of the land for grazing west of the Mississippi,” AFBF President Zippy Duvall said. “Water is the most valuable resource for every farmer and rancher. Unfortunately, the federal tactics we’ve seen in recent years have little to do with conservation and everything to do with big government and control.”

In recent years, federal land managers in the West have demanded increasingly that the ranchers who work the land surrender their water rights to the government or leave. Public lands are meant to be enjoyed and shared by our citizens, and America’s ranchers play a critical role in caring for these lands. The government’s treatment of these ranchers is not only unfair, but unconstitutional, AFBF said.

For America’s farmers and ranchers to continue to provide the food, fuel and fiber for the nation and the world, they simply must have access to water. This is especially crucial in the West. All citizens have a right to expect that their lawfully acquired water rights will be respected by the federal government.

If passed, the Water Rights Protection Act (H.R. 2939) would bar the federal government from seizing state-granted water rights from ranchers and restore basic property rights to them. According to AFBF, the act echoes policy changes President Trump set forth in his executive order on Promoting Agriculture and Rural Prosperity in America, which further supports the protection of ranchers’ water rights.

The legislation would also:
Prohibit agencies from demanding transfer of privately held water rights to the federal government in exchange for federal land use permits or other things; Maintain federal deference to state water law; and Maintain environmental safeguards already in place.

Farm Bureau commends Congressman Scott Tipton’s leadership on the legislation, and urges Congress to act swiftly to bring America’s ranchers much-needed relief.

Cool not Cool

Cool not Cool, Cattlemen Sue Country of Origin Labeling

Spokane—Washington ranchers are suing the US Department of Agriculture, because they want American shoppers to know where their beef is coming from.

The lawsuit was filed yesterday in Spokane’s Federal District court.

Cattlemen want to overturn the USDA’s decision back in March of 2016 that blocked regulations requiring foreign meat producers to label the country of origin of imported beef. 

Cattlemen argue that the change in 2016 has allowed some imported meat to be sold as US Beef.

David Muraskin an attorney for Public Justice said that in this day and age that shoppers want to know where their food comes from.

"We're fighting policies that put multinational corporations ahead of domestic producers and shroud the origins of our food supply in secrecy,” said Muraskin. 

From 2009 and 2016, the USDA required country-of-origin labeling on all meat until the agency struck down that requirement. The cornerstone of the lawsuit centers on the US Meat Inspection Act, which required that slaughtered meat from other countries be clearly marked. 

The Department of Agriculture is not commenting on the lawsuit. 

The lawsuit was brought by Cattle Producers of Washington, the Ranchers-Cattlemen Action Legal Fund, United Stockgrowers of America. 

Monday, June 19, 2017

Cuban trade

Ag Groups Concerned over Trump Cuba Policy

WASHINGTON -- Ag groups last week expressed concern over President Donald Trump's announcement that his administration will restrict travel to Cuba and limit business activities in Cuba.

"We will very strongly restrict American dollars flowing to the military, security and intelligence services that are the core of Castro regime," Trump said.

The American Farm Bureau Federation, the National Farmers Union, the U.S. Grains Council and wheat growers say limiting trade could hurt U.S. exports.

On Friday Trump said he was rolling back President Obama's steps to liberalize relations with Cuba because they had not led to more democracy there.

"They will be restricted. We will enforce the ban on tourism. We will enforce the embargo. We will take concrete steps to ensure that investments flow directly to the people, so they can open private businesses and begin to build their country's great, great future -- a country of great potential,” said Trump.

But there is still hope as far as trade is concerned. President Trump did not move to close the U.S. embassy in Cuba or the Cuban embassy in Washington, and did not end direct commercial airline flights or cruise ship stops.

American Farm Bureau Federation President Zippy Duvall wants the administration to be cautious with proposed trade restrictions with Cuba.

"We should be doing more, not less, to encourage U.S. agricultural exports to Cuba," Duvall said. "Our farmers and ranchers and the Cuban people would benefit from increased sales of high-quality, American-grown food and feed. The American Farm Bureau will continue to work with the administration and Congress to maintain and improve the conditions for agricultural trade with Cuba.”

“Cuba is a $2 billion annual food-import market," Duvall said. "Currently, because of some remaining restrictions, the United States sells about $200 million in agricultural products to Cuba, but that nation represents the kind of growth opportunity America's farmers and ranchers need during this challenging economic period.”

In the past eight months, Cuba bought more than 250,000 metric tons of corn from the US, thats 30-percent of their total demand, keeping the market open would make Cuba the 11th biggest market for US exports.

Friday, June 16, 2017

Dept of Labor cracks down

ICE Continues enforcements, Department of Labor vows crack down on work Visas

WASHINGTON- The nations farmers and ranchers are still waiting for the Trump administration to  address the farm labor shortage.

Meanwhile the Department of Labor issued a press release that promises to crack down on 'abuses of worker visa programs' and the US Ag sector is concerned.

The Department of Labor press release earlier this week had the  headline: “US Secretary of Labor protects Americans, directs agencies to aggressively confront visa program fraud and abuse,” the release said that it was  “using all its tools” to enforce labor rules and regs in the visa programs.

The release goes on to cite enforcement against an Arizona farming operation accused of keeping H-2A workers in “illegal and sub-standard” housing. In citing the case, the release says that “work has already begun on promoting the hiring of Americans and safeguarding working conditions.”

In California,Texas and Arizona media reports detail stepped up enforcement actions by Immigration and Customs Enforcement, but so far appear to target violent criminals and gang members rather than farmworkers.

The Agriculture Coalition for Immigration Reform, confirmed that the Labor Department has been more actively enforcing regulations in H-2A and H-2B, the visa program for non-agricultural workers, for several years. The group says its much more intense under the current Administration.

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Duvall Visit


The Idaho Farm Bureau will host American Farm Bureau President Zippy Duvall starting June 26TH for a tour of Idaho Agriculture. We talked to IFBF President Bryan Searle about the tour:

Sugar deal modified

Commerce modifies Monday’s Sugar Deal

Washington–The Commerce Department says they’ve drafted a new version of the deal with Mexico earlier this week and it'll tighten up the amount of refined Mexican sugar exported to the US.

The “suspension agreement” under revision is mostly the same but still under study by US refiners and food manufacturers.

“America’s sugar producers appreciate the hard work of Secretaries Ross and Perdue,” said Phillip Hayes, a spokesman for the American Sugar Alliance. “We are reviewing the agreement in detail and will continue to consult with the DOC and USDA.”

The U.S. and Mexico signed off on the revision late yesterday and Commerce will accept public feedback until 5 p.m. June 21.

The new deal keeps in place all the core provisions that requires that 70 percent of sugar imports from Mexico be raw and allows the remaining 30 percent to be refined. That’s a significant change from the current suspension agreement that maintains a 47-53 split for raw and refined.

US sugar refiners complained for years that Mexico was shipping too much refined sugar into the US. The industry prefers raw imports that need to be processed in US mills.

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Immigration arrests

ICE Budget to double by 2018

Washington--Immigration arrests have increased dramatically under the Trump administration and could even double next year if Congress approves the administration’s multibillion-dollar budget proposal according to the director of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

“You should look over your shoulder, if you’re in this country illegally, and you committed a crime by entering this country, you should be uncomfortable,” said Thomas Homan, Immigration and Customs Enforcement Director.

Horman told Congressmen at a hearing on Capitol Hill yesterday that ICE is cranking out detainer requests and adding thousands of cases to the agency dockets. He said that ICE is also deputizing local law enforcement agencies in key areas to help enforce federal immigration law.

House Democrats questioned the use of taxpayer dollars to lock up students and others who are in the country illegally but have not committed crimes, including a 19-year-old New York high school student who was detained last week just hours before his senior prom.

One Congressman called the policy “un-American,” and the another committee member asked if ICE was even looking out for public safety threats with all the recent noncriminal arrests.

Homan stressed that ICE still going after criminals, but said  the President's Jan. 25 executive order expanded the number of immigrants targeted for deportation including more than 300,000 fugitives with final deportation orders and 600,000 visa violations, people that have overstayed their visas—all off limits under President Barack Obama.

Homan’s testimony before the homeland security subcommittee of the House Appropriations Committee told how ICE carries out enforcement operations. He said that beside searching for immigrants on its own, the agency uses a fingerprint-sharing program that alert agents when undocumented immigrants are arrested.

Under President Obama's administration there were 23 countries that refused to issue the travel documents that U.S. officials need to put people on airplanes and deport them to their countries of citizenship. Now, just 12 are on the travel ban list.

ICE is the Homeland Security agency that handles detentions and deportations. The Justice Department runs the immigration courts, and under Attorney General Jeff Sessions, it has led the offensive against jurisdictions that refuse to detain immigrants so that ICE can take them into federal custody.

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Beef exports to China

US Resumes Beef Exports to China

Washington— US beef producers will once again ship beef to China, confirmed the USDA Monday afternoon.

After the final details are worked out, China will see the first shipments of US beef in more than 14 years.

Idaho Senator Mike Crapo joined Senate colleagues in the Western Caucus in hailing the trade agreement that finally reopened the Chinese market to U.S.-produced beef. Crapo said that China is one of the world’s largest importers for beef.

“The removal of this ban is long overdue. This extended ban on U.S. beef imports was unnecessary and placed American ranchers at a competitive disadvantage. Idaho, as well as ranchers nationwide, will again have access to China’s strong market and growing demand for quality American beef.”

There were deal conditions that exporters must meet. U.S. Department of Agriculture said producers must track the birthplace of all exported cattle and the beef must come from cattle less than 30 months of age. The Chinese are also restricting hormones, specifically promotant ractopamine, found in the drug Optaflexx, made by the Eli Lilly and Co unit Elanco.

Back in 2003 China banned US beef after the Mad Cow disease scare. All attempts by US negotiators to reopen China had failed. But the work by negotiators this year has could step up demand after a tough year for US ranchers.

Washington and Beijing finished the negotiations way ahead of deadlines. This negotiation is part of a bigger trade deal, with the first shipments coming the second week of July.

Monday, June 12, 2017

Wildfire Disaster Funding Act

Simpson wants to Reintroduce Wildfire Disaster Funding Act

Washington-Two western Congressman want to fix the way US wildfires are paid for.

Congressman Mike Simpson and Oregon Congressman Kurt Schrader have reintroduced the Wildfire Disaster Funding Act. Its legislation that would fix the outdated budgeting process for wildfires once and for all.

For years, Congress budgeted the cost of wildfire by appropriating money according to the average cost for wildfires over the past ten years, known as the “ten-year average.” When costs go over an agency’s fire budget, that agency is forced to borrow from non-fire accounts to pay for fire fighting. This practice is known as “fire-borrowing.” Using money from these accounts means that the Forest Service and the BLM has less money for forest management programs like hazardous fuels reduction that prevents catastrophic fires. The way things are now, wildfires get worse because programs needed to curb the threat of wildfires are needed for suppression.

“I’ve seen the cost of wildfires in Idaho and the impacts it has on our forests when funds that are planned for forest management are used to fight wildfires,” said Congressman Simpson. “When more than fifty percent of an agency’s budget is unpredictable, you are creating a recipe for the unsustainable fire-borrowing we see today that devastates our forests and costs taxpayers. I am pleased to reintroduce the Wildfire Disaster Funding Act with Congressman Schrader again this Congress. It is time to acknowledge that catastrophic wildfires should be funded like natural disasters so we can ensure that land managers have the resources they need to properly manage our forests.”

“Simply put, the current system is broken,” said Schrader. “Because we do no project management to help protect our forests, we end up paying much more to fight costly carbon producing wildfires that again devastate our ability to do the critical forest management on our public lands in the first place. These fires should be treated the same as any other natural disaster. Budgeting to address the mismanagement of our forests would free up financial resources. Our bill will work to fix this root problem by reducing fuel loads, improving forest health, save taxpayers money, and provide jobs in our struggling rural communities.”

Fire borrowing was intended to be an extraordinary measure to help in bad wildfire years. However, this practice has become the norm and not the exception, which has caused wildfire costs to increase. According to the Forest Service, wildfire costs were 56% of their total budget in 2016. In 1995, the Forest Service spent only 16% of their total budget fighting wildfires. By 2025, that number could increase to nearly 70% if nothing is done to fix the budgeting process.

The Wildfire Disaster Funding Act would end fire borrowing by treating wildfires like other natural disasters when wildfire suppression costs are exhausted. Most importantly, the Wildfire Disaster Funding Act would protect land management programs by protecting the budget from the increasing ten-year average.

Wildfire suppression would still be funded through the normal budgeting and appropriations process, but when the Forest Service exceeds its annual wildfire suppression budget, the agency would be able to fund wildfire fighting costs like other natural disasters. This allows the Forest Service and other land management agencies to maintain resources in the prevention accounts they are intended for, ultimately preventing catastrophic wildfires from growing in size and cost.

This week on the Hill

Perdue has busy week ahead in Washington

WASHINGTON- After two weeks on the road, including Idaho, Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue heads back to Capitol Hill this week and he’s got a lot on his plate.

Perdue testifies Tuesday before the Senate Ag Appropriations Subcommittee. Republican Senator Jeff Merkley of Oregon joins Democrat Debbie Stabenow of Michigan on the Senate Agriculture Committee in criticizing the rural development cuts by the Trump Administration.

In a letter to Perdue on Friday, the senators said they were not happy to see rural development programs on the cutting block along with more than 30-percent cut to the USDA budget.

“While we appreciate your comments that rural development is a personal priority of yours, given the magnitude of these responsibilities, it is essential that the Senate retain its oversight obligations to review and confirm the Rural Development mission area,” the senators wrote.

While USDA’s workforce would be reduced by 5.5 percent, or 5,263 employees, under the budget, the Research and Development staff could be cut by 20 percent, from 4,825 to 3,900. Perdue argues that the reorganization would elevate the importance of RD programs because the assistant that he plans to appoint to oversee them would have walk-in privileges with him.

Last month after the budget was released, Perdue appeared to back pedal on some of the proposals, saying that crop insurance and other farm programs are “extremely important.”

The budget would cut crop insurance by $29 billion over 10 years and eliminate the $1.7 billion Food for Peace program as well as two programs that many farm groups consider critical for developing export markets: the Market Access Program and the Foreign Market Development Cooperator Program.

The House Freedom Caucus wants GOP leaders to cut welfare spending by $400 billion as a way to make up for the revenue loss from cutting taxes. Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, is introducing legislation that requires people to work for food stamps.

Saturday, June 10, 2017

Mexican Sugar Deal

Sugar deal not so sweet

WASHINGTON–The tentative sugar deal that the US and Mexico announced last week centering on Mexican sugar exports hasn’t stopped the pressure from lawmakers and Sugar groups to change Tuesday’s agreement.

One senator told Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross at the Senate Appropriations committee Thursday afternoon that the deal will drive up sugar prices causing a spike in food prices.

“I would hope as you work to finalize the agreement that you’ll take into consideration not only the interests of the sugar producers, but also the interests of consumers and businesses that are going to be affected,” Senator Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire told Ross, who testified before a Senate Appropriations subcommittee.

When Ross and Mexican Minister of Economy Ildefonso Guajardo Villarreal announced the deal, they said there were unresolved issues. Ross said he thought it would be a matter of days before the deal to put tighter restrictions on Mexican sugar imports was finalized. The country had been accused of selling its sugar into U.S. markets at below the cost of production, a practice called “dumping."

The U.S. sugar industry, a driving force behind the Commerce Department’s efforts to renegotiate the U.S.-Mexico sugar arrangement under what’s called a suspension agreement, is also unhappy with the preliminary deal, and so are lawmakers from sugar-producing states.

Under the preliminary suspension agreement, 70 percent of the sugar Mexico ships to the U.S. would be raw and have a purity level of 99.2 percent or less. That’s good for U.S. refiners who depend on a sufficient supply of raw product to run through their mills. The current deal between the two countries requires that just 53 percent of Mexican sugar be raw and have a purity level of 99.5 percent or less.

But the refiners are still urging Commerce to change the deal. That's because negotiators agreed that if the USDA decides there is not enough sugar on the U.S. market and allows in above-quota imports from Mexico, the new restrictions would not be mandatory for that sugar.

The American Sugar Alliance has called this “a loophole” that threatens to allow Mexico to sell too much refined product into the US market.

Friday, June 9, 2017

Rivers running above average

Idaho’s Rivers Projected to Remain Above Average this Summer

BOISE– The Natural Resources Conservation Service has just released the sixth water supply outlook report for the 2016 water year. Data shows that a solid snowpack still exists above 8,000 feet in the central mountains, and in most basins, the remaining high elevation snowpack is more than twice normal.  In addition, residual streamflow forecasts call for average or greater June to July volumes across the state.

While May brought lower than normal precipitation to Idaho, the water year-to-date precipitation is above normal across the state ranging from a low of 127% of average in the Spokane and Salmon Falls basins to 170% in Little Wood and Big Lost basins. It is worth noting that with the exception of the Mud Lake area, Idaho as a whole has already received its annual precipitation for the water year that runs from October to September. 

Currently, it’s the reservoirs that are on Idaho’s “must watch” list. Spillways that have not been used in years have opened up, while others have been releasing water since mid-February to make room for this winter’s snowmelt. In the June Water Supply Outlook report, NRCS Snow Survey staff note that the multiple streamflow peaks resulting from May’s yo-yo-like temperatures are good, but are also keeping reservoir operators on their toes. 

The June 1 streamflow forecasts call for two general categories. In the Clearwater basin and Panhandle region, streamflows are projected at 100 to 125% of average. For the rest of the state, numerous streams have and may continue to set new daily high flow levels this year and are projected at 150 to 250% if average for the June to July period.

“Water users, managers, river runners, and concerned public will want to keep watching the weather, snowmelt rates and river levels until we are assured the high water season is behind us and the dry summer season is here,” said Ron Abramovich, Water Supply Specialist for NRCS Idaho.

For information on specific basins, streams, and reservoirs, please view the full report online at June Water Supply Outlook.

Sage Grouse Plan

Obama Sage Grouse Plan now under review

WASHINGTON – Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke wants a 60-day review of the sage grouse protection plans launched during the Obama administration.

That far-reaching plan called for sage grouse protection covering millions of acres across 11 Western States.

Zinke says that while the federal government has a responsibility under the Endangered Species Act to protect the endangered bird, "we also have a responsibility to be a good neighbor and a good partner."

He says a directive that could "destroy local economies" or impose onerous regulations on public lands "is no way to be a good neighbor."

Zinke said he’s traveled widely through the West including a trip to Idaho last week and heard complaints that the government had been “heavy-handed” in putting the current plan together and there was a lot of “mistrust and anger” over the issue.

“There’s been complaints by several of the governors that their ability to use federal lands, whether it’s for oil and gas, recreation, timber, across the board, that some of the heavy-handedness on habitat doesn’t allow for some of those uses,” Secretary Zinke said.

“I’m encouraged by Secretary Zinke’s commitment to review the Obama Administration’s draconian sage-grouse plans,” said Idaho Governor Butch Otter. “The Secretarial Order appropriately recognizes the states as being full and equal partners in the management and conservation of greater sage-grouse in the West. I look forward to working with the Secretary and his agency to address our concerns and bring about meaningful and necessary changes to the federal plan in Idaho. ”

A sage grouse team will evaluate the current management plans and report its findings with recommendations for next steps within 60 days, Zinke said in a call with reporters.

The review will be done the Fish and Wildlife Service, the Bureau of Land Management and the U.S. Geological Survey. Zinke said they would be looking at whether the current plan places too much emphasis on habitat protection as opposed to bird population, and whether more up-to-date technology, including drones, could be used in counting the animals and protecting habitat.

Environmental groups were concerned at Zinke’s announcement issued Thursday morning saying that the Secretaries order “runs the risk of derailing an effort to save the grouse and the habitat that supports 350 other species,” said Collin O’Mara, CEO of the National Wildlife Federation. “The work to save the greater sage grouse represents one of the most collaborative and significant conservation efforts in American history,” he said in the Federation release.

“The conservation plans written by the BLM and the U.S. Forest Service were compiled state input, local governments, landowners, conservationists, and others, are ready to go and should be carried out, not put on hold while sage grouse and their habitat face ongoing threats,” added O’Mara.

While Zinke said that some governors had complained to him about the current plans, Governors John Hickenlooper of Colorado, a Democrat, and Matt Mead of Wyoming, a Republican, were not among them. The two officials wrote to Zinke opposing any changes that would move “from a habitat-management model to one that sets population objectives for the states.”

Greater sage grouse once numbered in the millions in the Western states but their population is now estimated at between 200,000 and 500,000, mostly due to loss of habitat.

Zinke also said he wants to hear what state officials and ranchers have to say, and said environmental groups already had their say under the Obama plan. He thinks the States and the ranchers that live and work on the land have constructive and innovative ideas to build the population of sage grouse.

Thursday, June 8, 2017


Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue and U.S. Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell with U.S. Forest Service Smokejumpers

Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue and U.S. Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell interacted with U.S. Forest Service Smokejumpers.

The People Who Make U.S. National Wildland Fire Management the Best in the World

Posted by Jennifer Jones, U.S. Forest Service, Fire Aviation and Management Program in Forestry
Boise--Boise, Idaho is famous among college football fans for the blue turf on the Boise State University Broncos’ field. But in wildland fire management circles, the city is just as well-known as home of the National Interagency Fire Center or NIFC.
NIFC is the nation’s support center for wildland fire management and other types of incidents. Some even refer to it as the Pentagon or nerve center for national wildland fire management.
Earlier this month, Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue visited NIFC with Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke, Idaho Governor C.L. “Butch” Otter, and other officials. While there, they received a tour and briefing on the upcoming wildfire season and signed a memorandum (PDF, 64.7 KB) that was sent to wildland fire leadership highlighting the importance of inter-departmental collaboration in protecting communities and managing public lands.
Collaboration is the name of the game at NIFC, which isn’t an organization, but is rather a place where the U.S. Forest Service and eight other federal, tribal, state, and local agencies work together to coordinate national wildland fire management planning and operations to ensure effectiveness and efficiency.
The agencies represented at NIFC share assets (firefighters, aircraft and equipment) and work together to set priorities to allocate these assets. Effectiveness and efficiency are especially critical because no wildland fire management agency has enough assets including firefighters, fire engines, aircraft, or other equipment and machinery to respond to all the wildfires that occur on land under their jurisdiction.
Additionally, the National Interagency Coordination Center or NICC based at NIFC, plays a key role in ensuring that wildland fire managers receive as many of the assets mentioned above that they request as possible.
For strategic purposes, wildland fire managers divided the U.S. into ten geographic areas. All of the agencies located within these geographic areas have assets that they can mobilize to respond to wildfires, but during periods of high fire activity, they typically require more. The geographic areas place orders for additional assets to the NICC which obtains them from other geographic areas, the military, and even from other countries.
“We mobilize and allocate assets based on the principles of closest forces and total mobility,” said Susie Stingley, NICC Manager. “That means that we try to mobilize assets from as close to where they are being requested as possible, but if needed we can get them from anywhere they’re available.”

Staff stocking the Great Basin Area Incident Support Cache
Staff stock the Great Basin Area Incident Support Cache in preparation for western fire season. Forest Service photo.

In addition to the NICC, NIFC is home to many other vital national wildland fire management programs, facilities, and functions, including the National Interagency Incident Communications Division, the largest civilian radio cache in the world that can provide enough radios and repeaters (a device that extends radio coverage) to support more than 50 major disasters at a time; the Great Basin Area Incident Support Cache, which issues about $60 million worth of supplies and equipment on average annually to support wildfires and the Remote Automated Weather Stations Program, which maintains about 1,800 permanent and 75 portable weather stations that provide critical local weather data to fire managers.
NIFC is the envy of wildland fire and emergency management experts around the world because of its seamless interagency cooperation. Each year, wildland fire and emergency management experts from countries such as Greece, Norway, and Morocco, visit NIFC to learn how it operates to improve their operations.
But the highly successful structure of NIFC was not mandated by law, regulation, or policy. What motivates government agencies to work together to ensure that wildfires in the U.S. are managed as effectively and efficiently as possible is simply that this type of cooperation has been proved, time and again, to be a best practice that delivers the benefits of good government and works for all Americans.

The National Interagency Fire Center
The National Interagency Fire Center is also home to the Boise Bureau of Land Management Smokejumpers. Forest Service photo.

Salmon River threatens

Salmon River running high

SALMON — The Salmon River has reached the highest flood levels in decades.

Melting snow and daily rainstorms have flowed into the river and is above flood stage and could stay there with warm days in the forecast according to the National Weather Service office in Missoula, Mont.

The river flooded Island Park on the west side of Salmon last week,overtaking a wall of sandbags that volunteers put there to keep the river from flooding the cities riverfront.

Earlier this week the Salmon River peaked at 9.2 feet, thats considered medium flood stage but the river hadn’t hit that level since the 1980’s according to the National Weather service.

Major flooding of the river is marked at 9.5 feet, thats where flood waters could overtake homes and businesses in Salmon. So far cool weather has moderated runoff, but it’s getting warmer and theres still a lot of snowpack in the mountains. A backhoe operator had been rebuilding a dirt levy northeast of the Salmon River bridge.

Salmon residents say they’re used to seeing high water in the spring but not this late and most have never seen this much water.

“We’re used to the park flooding, but not like this,” said Salmon City Councilman and retired Forest Service engineer Jim Baker.

Carmen creek north of town is up over its banks and started to flood a home. The homeowner rebuilt a levy around the house and stemmed the tide, for now.

“At this point, I’ve stopped the flooding with quite a little bit of expense and effort on my part,: said Dee Adair. “It’s one of the challenges of living along the river – but I still love it here.”

The Salmon River has run high for weeks, with the peak on May 13 at 8.39 feet until last weeks 9,2, according to the Army Corp of Engineers.

The river’s historic crest, according to records dating back nearly a century, occurred in February 1985, measured 10.33 feet and was caused by an ice jam. Residents continue to pray for cool days until the snowpack is gone.

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Crop Analysis

Crops Currently in Poor Condition, But theres still Time

Washington—Each week USDA’s Crop Progress report updates crop condition ratings for major field crops. These weekly indicators of crop health are closely monitored for corn, soybeans and wheat, and drive price expectations throughout the growing season. At this time of year, poor crop conditions may lead to price rallies while more favorable growing conditions may lead to lower new-crop futures prices. These weather-driven price rallies present opportunities for growers to potentially lock higher returns per acre for a portion of their expected crop. However, based on historical crop yield data, it is too early to use crop conditions alone as an indicator of crop size.

Current Crop Conditions
The June 5, 2017, Crop Progress report indicated that 6 percent of the corn crop was in poor to very poor condition – higher than prior year levels of 4 percent, but 1 percentage point lower than last week’s estimate. Condition ratings for corn also identified 68 percent of the corn crop in good-to-excellent condition--7 percentage points below the prior year but 3 percentage points above last week. The corn crop is clearly improving across parts of the U.S. following a poor start to the growing season. Early season concerns have put a large number of acres at risk, however, and many in the trade are anticipating a pullback on U.S. corn production in 2017 (reduced acreage and/or yields).

Based on March planting intentions, the percent of the corn crop in poor or very poor conditions is equivalent to 5.1 million acres. Additionally, 4.6 million acres of corn remain unplanted, which means together there are 9.7 million corn acres either unplanted or planted and in poor or very poor condition.

The Eastern Corn Belt is experiencing the most severe effects from weather conditions so far this planting and growing season. These states had above average rainfall paired with cooler than average temperatures this planting season. Conditions like these stall planting and make it difficult for crops to grow because of possible negative effects on seed germination, soil nutrient content and root structure.
Areas with acres in poor or very poor condition possibly have been replanted or are being allocated to a different crop in the coming weeks. For example, unplanted corn acres may be planted to soybeans at this point because soybeans require a shorter growing season than corn and are typically planted later regardless of weather conditions. Final planting dates for soybeans range from early to late June depending on location.

Overall, soybean planting is on track with the previous year at 83 percent planted, and only slightly above the past five-year average of 79 percent. In the western Midwest, soybean planting has been largely unaffected by the weather, and many of these states are well ahead of average. The states surrounding the Great Lakes, however, are lagging due to recent excessive rainfall. The June 12, 2017, Crop Progress report will feature the first soybean condition ratings of the 2017 growing season.

An important question when considering these early-season crop conditions is do they even matter yet? The answer is … not really. The 2016 crop saw similar weather concerns before revealing record-high soybean and corn crops. There remains plenty of time in the growing season for the crop to improve. As evidence, the USDA’s weather-adjusted trend yield model for corn and soybeans monitors a combination of June through August precipitation and temperatures as conditioning information. For corn, mid-May planting progress is also statistically significant. What’s not statistically significant, according to USDA, are weather conditions in late-April or May.

As additional evidence, and using data from 2000 to 2016, a linear regression of early-June corn crop conditions and the yield deviation from trend shows that the percent in poor or very poor condition explains only 5 percent of the yield variability, Figure 3.  Similarly, the percent of the corn crop in good-to-excellent condition in early June explains 2 percent of the yield deviation from trend.

For soybeans, a linear regression of early-June soybean acres in poor or very poor condition explains 19 percent of the yield deviation from 2000 to 2016. While this is an improvement over the corn ratings, it still has low explanatory power. 

Conditions Will Matter
As mentioned earlier adverse weather can be detrimental to soil and plant health and can contribute to lower crop yields. June through August weather conditions play a significant role in explaining crop yields.
Corn and soybeans need warm growing conditions, but not too warm. Rain makes grain, but too much rain can damage crop yields, as does too little rain. Information on rainfall and temperature will become available in the coming weeks, as will updated information on crop conditions. By harvest time the crop conditions will certainly matter. A large percentage of the crop in poor or very poor condition would most likely be a result of adverse weather and would be expected to negatively impact crop yields.

Harvest-time crop conditions have significantly more explanatory power for determining yield deviations from trend. A linear regression of harvest corn crop conditions and the yield deviation shows that the percent of acres in poor or very poor condition explains 82 percent of the yield variability--compared to 5 percent in early June. For soybeans, harvest-time crop conditions show that the percent of acres in poor or very poor condition explain 66 percent of the yield variability--compared to 2 percent in early June.

At this point in the growing season, the empirical data and USDA’s weather-adjusted trend yield model suggest it is too early to use crop conditions as a significant measure of potential yield variability. While the explanatory power is low at this point, the market may react to unanticipated declines in crop conditions or other supply and demand indicators - creating marketing opportunities at higher prices to reduce downside price risk. 

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Up Coming Fire Season

Perdue and Zinke get Fireseason briefing at NIFC

Boise – Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue and Interior Secretary Ryan K. Zinke joined forces in Boise, Idaho today at the National Incident Fire Command Center for a tour and briefing on the upcoming wildfire season.

Following the events, the secretaries sent a memorandum to wildland fire leadership highlighting the importance of inter-departmental collaboration in protecting communities and managing public lands. In the memorandum, Perdue and Zinke stressed the need for working together as they anticipate the 2017 wildfire season to be “another challenging year” saying:
“The Departments of the Interior and Agriculture will improve the way that both Agencies manage wildfires by ensuring that all of our firefighting assets are utilized in the most efficient way possible.  It is critical that firefighters have the right tools, resources, and flexibility to allow them to do their jobs safely and effectively.  We look forward to working with leaders in both Agencies along with our state and local partners to explore opportunities to improve our operational efficiency and take advantage of the firefighting infrastructure and assets that are currently in place. We will also continue to integrate science and technology into all of our firefighting and to capitalize on other advancements to better inform and support our firefighting capabilities.
“Our success will be defined by how well we meet our obligations and how efficiently we use our resources and the management tools available to us.  By keeping our employees and the public safe from harm or loss, by effectively suppressing unwanted fire, and by doing everything we can to improve the health of our landscapes, we will be successful.”

Trump Officials visit Idaho

Boise—Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke and Ag Secretary Sonny Perdue's meet the Idaho Press.

The first question they faced is what to do about undocumented workers.

Perdue says undocumented immigrants play a huge role in Idaho’s Ag sector.
“Dairy producers – have year-round needs," he says. "And I hope to submit to the president a policy that he can feel good about, and the United States of America can feel good about. Because there are jobs out there that we cannot find American workers to fulfill.”

Monday, June 5, 2017

Plusses and Minuses for Agriculture with Border Adjustability Tax

Washington—A relatively new proposal for a tax system that imposes taxes where a good or service is consumed rather than where it is produced could be a mixed bag for farmers and ranchers. Under the system, known as the border adjustability tax, U.S. exports, including the 25 percent of farm and ranch goods sold overseas, would cost less, making them more appealing to foreign buyers. On the flip side, products imported into the U.S., like many of the inputs farmers rely on, would cost more.

“The border adjustability tax would ultimately make all of the products U.S. farmers and ranchers send overseas 20 percent less expensive. That’s a big plus for any highly exported commodity,” explained Pat Wolff, American Farm Bureau Federation tax specialist.

On the import side of the equation, under the new tax system, the cost of imported goods and services would no longer be deductible, leading to a larger income tax liability for companies that import goods.

Those companies will pass the import costs along to their customers, pushing up prices for imported products, which will put the squeeze on farmers who rely on imported fuel, petroleum-based chemicals and fertilizer.
—  Pat Wolff, AFBF tax specialist

Wolff encouraged farmers and ranchers to consider how the border adjustability tax will help or harm their businesses.

“They need to take a look at how much of their product goes overseas, and compare the potential benefits of export sales with the additional costs of the imported inputs they use.”

Once farmers and ranchers have a handle on the plusses and minuses of the border adjustability tax, their next move should be a call or email to their congressional lawmakers.

“This is a serious proposal. Senators and representatives need to know how their constituents will be affected,” she said.

There is also the issue of how the tax will be perceived beyond our borders. If one or more of our trading partners see it as a violation of our trade agreements, they could launch a World Trade Organization challenge. While the WTO dispute settlement process is lengthy, challenging countries could impose countervailing duties outside of that process. 

The border adjustability tax was included in the House Republicans’ tax reform blueprint, which was released last summer. The House Ways and Means Committee last week held a hearing on the tax. Farm Bureau has not taken a position on the border adjustability tax, but is monitoring legislative action closely. For Farm Bureau to support the final tax reform blueprint, it must comply with the United States’ international trade commitments.

Friday, June 2, 2017

Japan needs potatoes!

Potato crop failure hits chip market hard

Hokkaido,Japan--Theres a full scale panic in Japan.

While supply and demand in the US has potato prices flat, store shelves in the chip section across Japan are empty.

The crunch came after Calbee Chips warned on Monday that it will temporarily halt the sale of 15 types of potato chips due to a bad crop in Hokkaido, a key potato-producing region. The northern island was hit by a record number of typhoons last year. Calbee, which has a market value of 507.9 billion yen and is 20 percent-owned by PepsiCo Inc., has a 73 percent market share of potato chips.

Calbee’s pizza-flavored chips were going for about 1,250 yen ($12) on Yahoo Japan Corp.’s auction website Friday. One bag usually sells for less than 200 yen. Photos of near-empty shelves at their local supermarkets were trending on Twitter.

Potato chips are a big deal in Japan, a country also known for its senbei rice crackers and Pocky sticks. Calbee’s potato-snack products were the most and second-most popular snacks in a TV Asahi poll of 10,000 people and 13 confectionery makers last year, and the subject of a primetime show that lasted more than two hours.

While the focus has been on potato chips following Calbee’s announcement, the shortage may spread to fast-food chains and restaurants that rely on spuds for their dishes in what appears to be shaping up to be the nation’s “Potato Crisis,” according to the Nikkei newspaper.

“We’re doing everything we can to resume sales again,” said Rie Makuuchi, a spokeswoman for Tokyo-based Calbee. She said the company will consider using more imported potatoes from the U.S. and ask potato farmers in the southern island of Kyushu to harvest their crop earlier than scheduled. She also cited regulatory hurdles, which limit the amount of imported potatoes that can be used in products, as partly responsible for the shortage.

Thursday, June 1, 2017

Hay promising

Winter kill helping hay supply

Rupert—The first hay crop is in and farmers are finding that the harsh winter of 2017  could actually help the hay market.

Deep snow and low temperatures resulted in record amounts of winterkill across Southern Idaho, the most in decades. 

Alfalfa fields that weren’t killed outright were weakened and while it’s too early to get a yield estimates after the first cut, hay was short and weedy and yields are down.

 The cold and muddy conditions forced cattle producers, particularly dairies, to feed more hay this winter eating into hay stacks from Boise to Burley. 

According to the USDA’s May 1 hay stocks report, Idaho led the nation with the greatest reduction in hay stocks compared to the previous year. Idaho has just 510,000 tons of hay on hand this spring, down 46 percent compared to a year ago. Nationally, hay stocks are down just 3 percent.
Other states that posted large declines include North Dakota (down 360,000 tons), South Dakota (down 350,000 tons) and Colorado (down 300,000 tons).

Oregon is up 50,000 tons to 1.5 million tons while Washington is down 70,000 tons to 330,000 tons. California and Nevada are essentially flat: California was down 10,000 tons to 330,000 tons while Nevada was up 5,000 tons to 220,000 tons.

The combination of potentially lower yields and less hay in stacks should bring better marketing opportunities for hay producers through the summer.

Glenn Shewmaker, University of Idaho Extension forage specialist says that growers need to stay on top of markets.“Growers need to recognize it should be turning, at some point, to more of a seller’s market than a buyer’s market,”

Growers who took one extra cutting of hay last fall are paying for it now. Frequent cuts, five or six per season, can force alfalfa plants to enter winter with low carbohydrate reserves. Snow drifts and fence lines where snow accumulates ice layers form, and the plants didn’t have enough plant anti-freeze to survive the harsh,stormy winter.

Still USDA forecasters estimated Idaho hay acres will be up 2 percent in 2017. That survey was completed in early March, before the extent of the winter damage to stands was known. Many expect to see hay acres fall when the June Acreage Report is released, but no one has an estimate yet for how many acres may have been lost.

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

USDA Awards Loans to Build and Expand Rural Electric Infrastructure

WASHINGTON– Acting Deputy Undersecretary for Rural Development Roger Glendenning today announced that USDA is providing more than a quarter billion dollars in loans for rural electric infrastructure improvements.

“These loans will help improve the delivery of reliable electricity, and will help ensure that rural areas nationwide can prosper economically and benefit from today’s technologies to meet tomorrow’s needs,” Glendenning said.

The loans are being provided through the Electric Program of the Rural Utilities Service. They will support the construction or improvement of 1,369 miles of transmission and distribution line. They include $22.4 million for smart grid technologies to increase system efficiency and reliability. Smart Grid increases the reliability of electric power by helping utilities better manage power needs and supply, and improve operational efficiencies. It includes metering, substation automation, computer applications, two-way communications, geospatial information systems and other improvements.

Georgia’s Greystone Power Corp. will use a $90.3 million infrastructure loan to connect more than 8,000 customers and build 148 miles of distribution line. The loan includes $9.1 million for smart grid investments. The upgrades will help Greystone continue to meet its customers’ needs, such as those of agricultural and industrial businesses that are credited with driving the economic growth in Greystone’s eight-county service territory.

North Dakota’s Central Power Electric Cooperative, Inc. will use a $50.4 million loan to build or improve nearly 35 miles of transmission line.

The Electric Program is the successor to the Rural Electrification Administration. It makes loans and loan guarantees to nonprofit and cooperative associations, public bodies and other utilities to help finance the construction of electric distribution and generation facilities in rural areas.

USDA Rural Development provides loans and grants to help expand economic opportunities and create jobs in rural areas. This assistance supports infrastructure improvements; business development; homeownership; community services such as schools, public safety and health care; and high-speed internet access in rural areas. For more information, visit

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