November 21, 2019

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Republicans attack H-2A reform bill as ‘amnesty’
A bipartisan bill that would give producers greater access to foreign workers through the H-2A program, appears to be headed to the House floor. The big question is how many GOP votes the bill will get.
The House Judiciary Committee approved the measure on a voice vote Wednesday evening, but Republicans requested a roll call vote, which was delayed until today.
Although the measure has sponsors on both sides of the aisle, several conservative Republicans on the committee, led by ranking member Rep. Doug Collins of Georgia, criticized the bill Wednesday for providing a path to legal status for undocumented farmworkers.
“This bill opens the door to a massive amnesty,” Collins said during the four-hour-long committee debate.
Why it matters: House Democrats should have the votes to move the bill in the House, but Collins’ line of attack will make it hard for many Republicans to support it, and that doesn’t bode well for the measure in the GOP-controlled Senate.
California ag groups are cautiously optimistic. “We’ve overcome a lot of obstacles to get here, and there’s still a long way to go, but we’re encouraged by the prospects for reform,” said California Farm Bureau President Jamie Johansson, who attended the hearing.
Western Growers also issued a statement applauding yesterday’s vote. President and CEO Tom Nassif said that while the bill “is not perfect, we remain committed to working through the legislative process to address our outstanding concerns.” He also noted that nearly 300 agricultural organizations across the country support the bill.

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Delta farmers may soon enter cap-and-trade market
State agencies are advancing a carbon capture plan that could eventually pay farmers in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta to switch to rice. The plan could also reverse the sinking of land and help restore the delta. The first projects could begin next month.
Why the delta: The soils here, rich in organic matter, emit a quarter of the total agricultural emissions in the state. During a presentation earlier this month, Campbell Ingram of the Delta Conservancy described it as “a small chimney that is rapidly pumping carbon into the atmosphere.” The lands emit more than 2 million metric tons of carbon per year, the equivalent of 500,000 cars. The rapid subsidence also threatens the ability to pump water from the delta to cities and farmland.
Why rice: The winter flooding of rice fields saturates the soil and stops the degeneration. Converting to managed wetlands is another option. The process may be able to reverse the subsidence just enough to stave off rising sea levels, while also providing plant food for fish.
Farm to market: In April, the American Carbon Registry approved the protocol. This sets up the mechanism for farmers to convert their land, quantify their emission reductions and take that number to California’s cap-and-trade market.
Next: As part of the process, the Delta Conservancy is lining up a financier to guarantee the credits will be sold on the market. They are also working with the Air Resources Board to adopt the protocol. That would raise the price from $59 per acre to as high as $300. The difference is enough for many farmers to earn more through managed wetlands than with the current row crops. The Conservancy is also seeking funding to help landowners cover the steep costs for conversion.
Westlands defends water contract conversion
Environmental groups and media criticized the Westlands Water District earlier this month when the Department of Interior selected the district’s water contract as the first to convert to a permanent status. Fingers pointed to Interior Secretary David Bernhardt for corrupt deal making to benefit his former lobbying client.
Yesterday, General Manager Tom Birmingham issued a statement calling it a well-established practice to convert temporary contracts when water users have repaid the construction costs for a project. He noted that more than 75 other agencies are doing the same, including the California Department of Fish and Wildlife.
The bill enabling this type of conversion was signed into law by then-President Barack Obama, who said this would help the state become “more resilient in the face of growing water demands and drought-based uncertainty.”
Oregon senators seek changes in hemp rule
Oregon Democratic senators Jeff Merkley and Ron Wyden want to see USDA change its hemp rule to fix “unintended and potentially harmful effects” on hemp production.
In a letter to Ag Secretary Sonny Perdue, the senators said the 15-days-before-harvest THC testing requirement “will be an impossible obstacle for growers to overcome” and sought a “more realistic timeframe.”
They also want USDA to remove the requirement that testing labs be registered by the Drug Enforcement Administration.
Working group sidelined in USMCA talks
The group of House Democrats tasked with negotiating with the Trump administration to bring the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement to the floor isn’t involved in the latest efforts to finalize a deal.
Oregon Democrat Earl Blumenauer indicated that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and House Ways and Means Chairman Richard Neal are now taking the lead in finagling a deal with the White House. He said he wasn’t aware of any more scheduled working group meetings.
Why it matters: This suggests the talks with the White House may have reached a final stage.
USDA sets April target for new biotech rules
USDA is shooting to finalize a sweeping overhaul of biotech crop regulations by April, according to the latest update of the Trump administration’s regulatory agenda. 
The regulations are intended to accelerate approvals of biotech crops and would allow companies to determine on their own whether new crop traits are subject to USDA’s regulations. 
FDA is continuing work on revisions to standards of identity and other food standards. FDA plans to reopen the public comment period on a proposed rule that was issued by the George W. Bush administration in 2005 but never finalized, according to the agenda. 
EPA’s new “waters of the U.S.” rule is expected to be published by January. However, no document has been sent to the Office of Management and Review yet for review.

Buttigieg backs trade aid

President Trump’s Market Facilitation Program payments made an appearance in Wednesday night’s Democratic presidential debate. Pete Buttigieg, who’s leading Iowa in the latest poll, said he would support continuing the payments, but quickly added that “we won’t need them, because we’re going to fix the trade war.” 

The South Bend, Ind., mayor also brought up agribusiness consolidation and EPA’s small refinery waivers, saying they were hurting farmers along with the trade war. “I don’t think this president
cares one bit about farmers,” he said.
He said it:
“This has been a weird year in terms of when crops get harvested.” – UC Davis Professor Daniel Sumner, discussing “bottlenecks” created by late and early grape harvests, in the Bakersfield Californian.
Ben Nuelle, Spencer Chase, Steve Davies, Philip Brasher (in Indianapolis) contributed to this report.

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