AGree Newsfeed-Climate and Disaster Relief Shape Early Farm Bill Talks; Disaster Coming to Great Plains; Biden Turns to Antitrust Enforcers; U.S. Will Lift COVID Restrictions on H-2A Workers Traveling from South Africa; China to Approve GMO’s

Democrats Seek to Shape Climate and Disaster Relief in Early Farm Bill Talks — Politico
Source: Politico
December 28, 2021
Meredith Lee
  
(Article Summarized by Meridian Institute) Democrats on the House Agriculture Committee are looking to farm bill talks as one of the best options for increasing funding of agriculture-related climate programs now that Senator Joe Manchin (D-WV) has said he won’t support the current version of the Biden administration’s Build Back Better bill. These talks are slated to begin in 2022, as the current farm bill expires in 2023. According to this article, “Farm bill negotiations typically take two years or more, and Democrats are hoping their early bid to shape talks around their climate and other major priorities will ensure they get at least some of what they want even if Republicans win a majority in the House next fall… Democrats are aiming to secure support from agricultural groups that could then press Republicans to pay for farmer-friendly climate programs if the GOP takes control before the deadline.” Says Representative Ann Kuster (D-NH), “I think this will be the first time we see some pretty impactful policies related to climate change.” But Republicans on the House Agriculture Committee have been less committal about the administration’s plan to have the U.S. Department of Agriculture take a big role in fighting climate change. Representative G.T. Thompson (R-PA), who is the ranking member of the committee, has said that some of the climate money in the Build Back Better act went toward “flawed policies,” that had little oversight. “I don’t think anyone can determine whether that’s appropriate or not without going through a transparent process on the farm bill,” he said. Still, if the Senate remains in Democratic control, said a House Democratic aide, any Republican effort to slash climate or nutrition funding in the farm bill would “be D.O.A.” Losing both the House and Senate, however, would force President Biden, this article says, to decide whether he would sign or veto the final legislation. “The last two farm bills ended up in some pretty partisan disagreements. So it’s not uncommon that we start off with some sort of gap about how we’re thinking about it,” said Representative Chellie Pingree (D-ME), referring to conservation programs for farmers. Lawmakers are also looking to the farm bill to address how Congress funds disaster relief, and crop insurance may be one way to do that. Beefing up the program so that more producers participate in the program could help, says Representative Cheri Bustos (D-IL): “We’ve got to get risk management right. That will be critical,” adding, “as weather anomaly after weather anomaly is now becoming weather norms.” Read More
The Next Disaster Coming to the Great Plains — The Atlantic
Source: The Atlantic
December 26, 2021
Lucas Bessire
  
(Article Summarized by Meridian Institute) In this opinion piece, Lucas Bessire, an associate professor of anthropology at the University of Oklahoma, writes that an environmental catastrophe is coming to the High Plains of western Kansas. The ongoing drought in the American West is making the scarcity of water even more acute, and it’s leading farmers and others to search for water underground. But, says Bessire, the West’s major aquifers are in trouble. Both the Central Valley aquifer of California and the Ogallala Aquifer, in America’s heartland, are vanishing. “Aquifers,” he writes, “do not die all at once. Patchy even when full, they run out piecemeal, too.” And the consequences of aquifer loss, he says, are already visible in western Kansas, where he grew up and where his family farmed for generations. “Many people on the Plains would like to save the aquifers and share some of this groundwater with future generations,” he says. “But stopping depletion is not as straightforward as it may seem. The deeper reasons for aquifer loss are hard to pin down, often eluding explanation in the myths and slogans of today’s partisan divides.” Bessire delves into the drivers behind aquifer decline, highlighting corporate profiteering as the major reason, with absentee owners of farmland pumping groundwater and exporting the profits to shareholder and managers far away. He writes: “Groundwater loss is a generational test of our ability to come together around shared problems. The solution is obvious: We cannot keep taking more water out of aquifers than can be naturally replaced. Aquifer use must be sustainable. Meeting that goal will require better policy, public action, personal responsibility, and political leadership. Authorities should establish benchmarks for reductions in groundwater use and be prepared to impose mandatory restrictions if those are not met. Benchmarks should be tailored to local conditions and coordinated across regions. At the same time, the long-term economic and social value of groundwater should be correctly calculated. Everyone—including small farmers, growing cities, and giant agribusinesses—should be held to the same standards of sustainability and pay for what they use. Profit alone cannot justify eradication. We need guidelines to make sure that sustainably managed groundwater is distributed in transparent, effective, and equitable ways. Federal farm subsidies, crop insurance, and conservation programs should be rebuilt with sustainable agriculture as the goal. Such programs should allow farmers to save groundwater while making ends meet. Additional programs should help support rural people and communities during their transition toward a sustainable relationship with their aquifers.” Read More
As Prices Rise, Biden Turns to Antitrust Enforcers — The New York Times
Source: The New York Times
December 25, 2021
Jim Tankersly and Alan Rappeport
  
“As rising inflation threatens his presidency, President Biden is turning to the federal government’s antitrust authorities to try to tame red-hot price increases that his administration believes are partly driven by a lack of corporate competition. Mr. Biden has prodded the Agriculture Department to investigate large meatpackers that control a significant share of poultry and pork markets, accusing them of raising prices, underpaying farmers — and tripling their profit margins during the pandemic. As gas prices surged, he publicly encouraged the Federal Trade Commission to investigate accusations that large oil companies had artificially inflated prices, behavior that the administration says continued even after global oil prices began to fall in recent weeks. The push has extended to little-known agencies, like the Federal Maritime Commission, which the president has urged to search for price gouging by large shipping companies at the heart of the supply chain. The turn to antitrust levers stems from Mr. Biden’s belief that rising levels of corporate concentration in the U.S. economy have empowered a few large players in each industry to raise prices higher than a more competitive market would allow. Corporate culpability for rising prices remains unclear. Inflation is at a 40-year high because of pandemic-related factors such as broken supply chains and high demand for goods from consumers still flush with government-provided cash. But as the price increases have spread across sectors, including food and gasoline, the administration has come under increasing pressure to find ways to respond. White House officials concede that their antitrust moves are unlikely to reduce costs for U.S. businesses or consumers immediately. The efforts, they say, will be more effective down the road. But the rise of inflation has given the White House an opportunity to take action that Democrats have long encouraged, and that Mr. Biden made an early focus of his tenure: using the power of government to break up monopolies and promote economic competition.” Read More
These Food Items Are Getting More Costly in 2022 — The Wall Street Journal
Source: The Wall Street Journal
December 27, 2021
Jaewon Kang
  
“Everything from coffee to mustard is getting more expensive next year. Many food manufacturers say they plan to raise prices in 2022 for a range of products from macaroni-and-cheese to snacks, the latest sign that consumers will continue to face higher costs at the supermarket. “There’s nothing immune from price increases,” said Tony Sarsam, chief executive officer of food retailer and distributor SpartanNash Co., adding that produce, dairy and packaged food such as bread and juice are among many items set to become more pricey next year. Food prices are estimated to rise 5% in the first half of 2022, according to research firm IRI, though the level of increases will vary by grocers and regions…The increases follow others that food manufacturers imposed in 2021, and are part of what businesses and economists call the highest inflation in decades. Higher wage, material and freight costs are prompting industries from manufacturing to retail to raise prices of goods, creating an environment in which some executives say they have room to charge more…The Labor Department said the consumer-price index rose 6.8% in November from a year ago, the fastest pace since 1982. The food-at-home index, which includes purchase from grocery stores, rose 6.4% over the past 12 months, with meats, poultry, fish and eggs increasing 12.8%. Coming price increases in 2022 range from as low as 2% to 20%, hitting all sections of the grocery store including produce and packaged goods.” Read More
U.S. Will Lift COVID Restrictions on H-2A Workers Traveling from South Africa — Agri-Pulse
Source: Agri-Pulse
December 27, 2021
Steve Davies
  
“The Biden administration will lift restrictions on travel from South Africa Dec. 31, which is good news for farmers and ranchers who are expected to employ about 7,000 workers from that country this growing season. The administration had imposed the travel ban affecting South Africa and seven other African nations at the end of November but announced Dec. 24 it would be removing the prohibition, citing the spread of the omicron variant in the U.S…Domestic cases of COVID have been climbing steadily since late October, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The first confirmed case of the omicron variant was detected in the U.S. in late November, in a traveler from South Africa. South Africa first reported the presence of the omicron variant to the World Health Organization Nov. 24. The White House imposed the entry restrictions Nov. 29…Montana Sen. Jon Tester also sought a lifting of the ban in a Dec. 22 letter in which he said he understood the rationale for limiting travel “immediately after the discovery of [the] Omicron variant in South Africa,” but that it was “now clear that Omicron is the dominant COVID-19 variant in the United States. Continuing to limit travel to and from South Africa will likely do more harm than good, especially for our nation’s farmers who rely on guest workers from South Africa to make ends meet and feed America.” The Labor Department certified about 318,000 H-2A positions in fiscal year 2021, which ended Sept. 30. About 258,000 visas were issued, with Mexico supplying about 200,000 workers and South Africa second with about 5,500.” Read More
China to Give Safety Approval to More Domestic GMO Corn Types — Reuters
Source: Reuters
December 28, 2021
Hallie Gu and Emily Chow
  
“China plans to approve the safety of more genetically modified (GMO) corn varieties produced by domestic companies, the agriculture ministry said late on Monday. The move comes after Beijing last month proposed an overhaul of regulatory seed rules to pave the way for approval of GMO crops and as top policy makers urged progress in biotech breeding, seen as key to ensuring food security…The plan to approve the new corn varieties, along with seven new GMO cotton products, will be open for public comment until Jan. 17, the ministry said…Safety approval is seen as a major step towards commercialization of GMO crops, but it is still unclear when the new products will be ready for a market launch. Beijing has so far not permitted the planting of GMO soybean or corn varieties, but it allows their import for use in animal feed.” Read More

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