Farm Bureau wants bipartisan Build Back Better plan
According to the Hagstrom Report, the American Farm Bureau Federation is unlikely to support the Build Back Better Act unless it becomes a bipartisan piece of legislation.
Farm Bureau publicly opposed the bill that the Democrats hoped to push through the Senate under budget reconciliation rules until Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., said he would not support it. Farm Bureau took that position even though the final version did not include the changes to stepped-up basis in estate tax law that farm groups opposed.
The last version of the bill included more than $90 billion that would be added to the baseline for the 2023 farm bill, but Farm Bureau objects to the fact that there no efforts toward bipartisanship in developing the bill and that it’s unclear how the money will be put into agricultural policy. The expansion of the baseline is not enough to warrant Farm Bureau’s support because they want to know how it would expand the baseline.
In a separate session, John Newton, the former Farm Bureau chief economist who is now chief economist for the Senate Agriculture Committee Republicans, said that if the Build Back Better Act passes, the Democrats plan to take unspent budget authority back and use it to increase programs under the farm bill. But Newton said the Democrats’ ability to do that will depend on the cooperation of whoever chairs the budget committees in 2023.
Farmers’ voices heard on WOTUS rewrite
According to FarmProgress, in the latest pendulum swing of water regulations, the Biden administration is undergoing actions to repeal and replace the 2020 Navigable Waters Protection Rule finalized under the Trump administration.
Farmers’ voices on the impact of any new rule were elevated in a roundtable discussion on Jan. 6, but the latest regulation, proposed in November by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, would repeal the 2020 NWPR, re-establish the definition of WOTUS to what was in place from 1986 to 2015, and broaden the federal government’s authority under the Clean Water Act.
Sylvia Quast, senior advisor to the assistant administrator of water quality at EPA, says the decision to return to the 1980s interpretation of what is defined as “waters of the U.S.” while also including considerations from 2001 and 2006 Supreme Court rulings was done to “avoid the ping ponging” for those who are dealing with the application of rules, and also for the regulators who are implementing the rules.
Quast says EPA and the Army Corps of Engineers proposed to return to the rules prior to that in 2015 when the Obama administration attempted to clarify what constitutes a water that was later challenged in the courts.
Stefanie Smallhouse, Arizona Farm Bureau President, shares that the 2015 rule was overwhelmingly opposed by those in the agricultural community because it further expanded the Corps’ federal footprint of jurisdiction and created a “complex matrix of qualifiers while weakening the farming and ranching exemptions.”
Smallhouse, as well as other agricultural stakeholders who shared their thoughts, identified the confusion returns with understanding what represents a “significant nexus” and is a concern that needs to be addressed in the current rulemaking efforts ongoing now. The Supreme Court dissertations included the significant nexus as a qualifier to what should be included in federal jurisdiction, but the Obama administration’s interpretation greatly expanded its definition of water connections to regulated bodies of water.
The case-by-case test allows the agencies to regulate ditches, ephemeral features, or low spots on farmland and pastureland that “have a more than speculative or insubstantial” impact to a navigable water. The test also allows the agencies to aggregate waters that are “similar situated,” enabling them to expand their reach, capture entire watersheds and make moving dirt, plowing or building fences subject to regulations.
Quast says the significant nexus test does not override the agricultural exemptions that are currently written into the original CWA, and that those involved in the discussion reiterated their desire to see those exclusions codified.
Scott Yager, environmental counsel for the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, shares those exclusions for agriculture that are bipartisan that were included in both the Trump version as well as the Obama administration’s clean water rule contained specific exclusions for agricultural infrastructure and practices, specifically farm ponds, return flows from irrigated agriculture, and agricultural features that have historically been non-point sources.
While the proposed rule would retain a longstanding exclusion for prior converted cropland, it would also reinstate the original 1993 PCC definition, and require landowners to obtain a USDA certification to receive the exclusion.
Yager says the Trump rule did provide a robust definition of what is prior converted cropland, however this latest proposal does not. Without a clear definition, he warns it leaves interpretation to the agencies.
Yager said, “The fact that this proposal does not include the agricultural exclusions is concerning,” and added that it’s going to open the door for small producers, farmers and ranchers who have never been regulated by CWA to be. He says this could be avoided by demonstrating through clear exclusions and robust definitions of those terms in the final rule.
The comment period on the proposed rule closes Feb. 7, but Quast says EPA is aware of requests for extending the comment period.
WA rancher sentencing moved to June 13
DTN reported that former Washington state rancher Cody Allen Easterday is scheduled to be sentenced on June 13, after a federal judge granted a third continuance in a complex case that includes a guilty plea on wire fraud charges in a so-called ghost-cattle scheme and an ongoing massive bankruptcy case.
Easterday, who is also involved in an ongoing Chapter 11 bankruptcy dispute regarding the proceeds from a recent $209 million sale of his farm and ranch assets to pay creditors, had asked the U.S. District Court for the District of Eastern Washington for the continuance for sentencing in his criminal case.
Easterday, who was scheduled for sentencing on Jan. 24, could face up to 20 years in prison for defrauding Tyson Fresh Meats and another unnamed company of $244 million for buying and feeding hundreds of thousands of cattle that didn’t exist.
According to a declaration filed by Easterday’s attorney, the now-former rancher has been working to sell off property to pay creditors. However, an agreement could not be reached by creditors on how to allocate the proceeds from those sales. This has led to a lawsuit filed against Easterday, according to court records, which is set for trial beginning on April 28, 2022.
Chief Judge Stanley A. Bastian commented that he is not continuing this case for the convenience for Mr. Easterday, but for the convenience of the bankruptcy court.
Tyson opposed the continuance in the criminal case, saying in a brief filed with the district court that Easterday had “mischaracterized” his role in the sales, and that “rather than cooperating to maximize the recovery of Tyson, the defendant is actively working to hinder such recovery.”
On Sept. 22, 2021, the boards of directors of Easterday Farms and Easterday Ranches decided to file a complaint against Cody Easterday and other members of his family, wanting a court to declare the disputed real estate and related property belongs exclusively to the debtor estates and not Easterday or other family members.
Easterday and other family members oppose the complaint and argue some of the proceeds from the disputed properties are assets of individual family members. The family also opposes the bankruptcy plan, stating they “will receive nothing on account of their equity interests.”
U.S. meat production slows as Omicron hits staff and inspectors
According to Drovers, rising COVID-19 infections among U.S. workers have forced meat plants to slow production and the government to replace slaughterhouse inspectors. Meatpacking, an early epicenter of the pandemic in 2020, is the latest sector to be disrupted by a surge in cases of the Omicron variant, which has also left airlines, hospitals and schools scrambling for staff.
Cargill Inc, a top U.S. beef producer, has already been operating a few plants at a lower slaughtering capacity, spokesman Daniel Sullivan said. Less slaughter capacity reduces U.S. beef supplies at a time of booming demand and means farmers must keep cattle in feed yards or on ranches longer than they typically or ideally would. A sustained period of lower production could further increase high meat prices at a time of inflation fears.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture estimated processed cattle are down approximately 6% from a year ago, matching January 3rd levels that were the lowest since October as beef plants operate with “skeleton crews” and slaughter cows back up the system.
Mark Lauritsen, International Vice President for Meatpacking at the United Food and Commercial Workers Union, said he has seen a slight uptick in COVID-19 cases – especially at plants that vaccinated workers early last spring but have not made a push for booster shots.
The union has asked meat processors to reinstate monitors who ensure plant workers stay distanced, as Reuters reported many companies have relaxed safety protocols.
APHIS seizes nearly a ton of illegal animal products from China found in New York City
USDA reported that during the past three months, from October to December, the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service’s (APHIS) Smuggling Interdiction and Trade Compliance (SITC) program seized and destroyed more than 1,900 pounds of prohibited pork, poultry, and ruminant products from New York City-area retailers.
These items were sourced from China, lacked required import permits and health certificates, and therefore are considered a risk of introducing invasive plant and animal pests and diseases into the United States.
SITC anti-smuggling efforts prevent the establishment of invasive plant and animal pests and diseases, while maintaining the safety of our ecosystems and natural resources.
The Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service is concerned about these prohibited products because China is a country affected by African swine fever (ASF), Classical swine fever, Newcastle disease, Foot-and-mouth disease, highly pathogenic avian influenza, and swine vesicular disease.
ASF is of particular concern because the highly contagious and deadly viral disease that affects both domestic and feral swine of all ages has recently spread throughout China and Asia, as well as within parts of the European Union. Most recently, ASF was confirmed in pigs in the Dominican Republic and Haiti.
ASF is not a threat to human health, but it is a deadly swine disease swine that would have a significant impact on U.S. pork producers, their communities and export markets if discovered in the U.S.