October 3, 2019
Ag groups sue California over bumblebee decision
A coalition of ag groups is contesting a decision to consider protecting four native bumblebee species under the California Endangered Species Act (CESA). The nine groups filed a lawsuit recently against the Fish and Game Commission and Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW).
The commission had decided in June to advance a petition by environmental groups to list the bees under protections for fish, since both are invertebrates. CDFW then began a year-long review process, during which time it regulates as if the bees were listed already. The proposed habitat covers nearly the entire state.
The lawsuit calls the commission’s decision illegal since the act does not include protections for insects. It goes on to say that listing the bees under CESA would “harm the farming community” by leaving farmland untilled, restricting grazing and pesticides and prohibiting the use of honeybees to pollinate blueberries, cherries and almonds. The lawsuit alleges that “even trained biologists” are not able to distinguish the bees from other species, while farmers must avoid them or face enforcement actions.
Noelle Cremers of the California Farm Bureau told Agri-Pulse that honeybees are responsible for almost half of the state’s ag production, which includes pollinating alfalfa to feed dairy cows. The industry has invested a lot into pollinator health, from improving pesticide management to planting hedgerows, she explained.
California Citrus Mutual President Casey Creamer told Agri-Pulse the likely reason the commission voted – by a narrow margin – to advance the petition was to enable to the state to do its own review.
Creamer was optimistic and called it “a pretty clear-cut case.” A similar case was debated more than 20 years ago. After a state review found the commission did not have the authority for this decision, it rescinded the action.
Cremers had another way of looking at it: “A bumblebee is not a fish,” she said. “It's just important for folks to wrap their head around the basis of this decision.”
US to hit EU with ag tariffs
The Trump administration will soon be hitting a wide range of European farm products with a new 25% tariff when the U.S. takes its WTO-approved retaliation against the European Union later this month.
The WTO handed down a ruling Wednesday that will allow the U.S. to hit European countries – mostly Germany, France, Spain and the U.K. – with $7.5 billion worth of tariffs, annually, to retaliate for damages done by European subsidies given to Airbus. The list of ag products that could be hit with tariffs, according to the U.S. Trade Representative, include cheese, whey, butter, yogurt, pork, peaches, pears, olives, cherries and wine.
The dairy-heavy list got a hearty thumbs up from the National Milk Producers Federation, which said in a statement: “The U.S. is running a $1.6 billion dairy trade deficit with Europe because of unfair EU trade practices that block our access to their market while they enjoy broad access to ours.”
The EU, meanwhile, is preparing to hit U.S. ag commodities with new tariffs as a result of its victory in a WTO suit over U.S. subsidies for Boeing.
Included on the EU retaliatory list are: soybean oil, orange juice, cherries, wine, grapes, sweet potatoes, pecans, pistachios, hazelnuts, grapefruit and vodka.
Perdue at stakeholder meeting at World Dairy Expo. (USDA photo)
Perdue under fire for dairy comment
It looks like Ag Secretary Sonny Perdue is trying to repair some of the damage from a statement he made about dairy farms in the swing state of Wisconsin. Perdue got national attention on Tuesday when he said at the World Dairy Expo that small farms would likely have to get bigger to survive and that the government doesn’t guarantee any small business can make a profit.
On Wednesday, Perdue posted a tweet that said, “There is no doubt there has been economic stress in the dairy industry but we believe better days are ahead.” The tweet linked to a news report that provided more context to Perdue’s remarks.
Keep in mind: Perdue’s observation that it’s tough to make money on a small dairy farm isn’t that debatable, and those challenges aren’t limited to the dairy sector. But the issue is especially sensitive in Wisconsin, which has an unusually large number of small dairy operations, and some other states.
Democrats pounced on Perdue’s remarks. "The demise of these operations is not an inevitability, it is a choice informed by misguided policies entrenching the interests of big/corporate agriculture at the expense of small family farms.,” said first-term Rep. Antonio Delgado, D-N.Y.
Farm Bureau proposes marketing order reforms
The American Farm Bureau Federation has agreed on some proposed reforms to the federal milk marketing order system, and some of the ideas are sure to give processors some heartburn.
There are four basic recommendations, including one that calls for overhauling the voting process on marketing orders to ensure that individual members of dairy cooperatives have more of a say, instead of allowing bloc voting by co-ops.
Another proposal called for adjusting “make allowances” according to the price of milk. The make allowance is the share of the price that processors keep to cover the cost of processing milk into finished products. It’s currently a fixed deduction, which means that it’s a larger share of the milk price when prices are low and smaller when prices are high.
A third proposal calls for expanding USDA’s mandatory price reporting survey.
In response to the recommendations, the National Milk Producers Federation issued a one-sentence statement from CEO Jim Mulhern welcoming “the expression of all views” on the milk marketing order system.
He said it:
“Nancy Pelosi just said that she is interested in lowering prescription drug prices & working on the desperately needed USMCA. She is incapable of working on either.” - President Trump, in one of a series of tweets lashing out at Democrats over the impeachment issue.
Trump needs the support of the House speaker and her Democratic caucus to get the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement approved.
Bill Tomson, Steve Davies and Ben Nuelle contributed to this report.
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