January 29, 2020
Congress takes up debate on fixing the Friant-Kern Canal
Yesterday, a House Natural Resources subcommittee held the first hearing on a bill proposing $200 million to fix the Friant-Kern Canal. U.S. Rep. T.J. Cox, D-Calif., said his bill would improve water deliveries and also support habitat for salmon.
In his testimony, Friant Water Authority CEO Jason Phillips said the canal has sunk from subsidence by as much as 12 feet since it was built in the 1940s. The fix could cost as much as $500 million. To fill the other half of the cost share, he said: “We're working diligently to find the local and state funding.”
Yet, Rep. Tom McClintock, R-Calif., was frustrated neither this nor another Cox bill on safe drinking water addressed water storage, “the most pressing need.”
William Bourdeau, the executive vice president of Harris Farms, agreed, saying, “We need to address the underlining issues causing subsidence.” A fix would not help if the state is delivering a 0% allocation, he said.
Phillips called for urgent action either way, citing a report that up to 85,000 permanent jobs will be lost in the San Joaquin Valley due to the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act.
Keep in mind: The state bill proposing $400 million to fix the canal stalled last year and has not reappeared as a two-year bill, as Sen. Melissa Hurtado of Sanger had vowed. Of the four proposed water and climate bonds, one would provide $50 million for the fix, though the governor has yet to release more details on the proposal.
On that note: McClintock said Democrats are expected to advance a bill on the House floor today that would invalidate Trump's new Endangered Species Act regulation. He suggested the measure would impact the new biological opinions for Central Valley Project pumping and its related water allocations.
William Bourdeau, executive vice president of Harris Farms
Kalra revives deforestation bill
Asm. Ash Kalra of San Jose introduced a bill yesterday aimed at deforestation in the Amazon from slash-and-burn agricultural practices. AB 2002 would ban state purchases of those goods, limiting where it sources its paper as well as the furniture in state offices and the food in cafeterias. Contractors would have to prove their operations are not linked to rainforest destruction.
In its opposition to the previous version of the measure, the Construction Employers’ Association asked why the state would be buying “forest-risk” products in the first place. It said the Legislature should start with that policy, rather than put a new burden on contractors. “Problem solved!” it wrote in its comments.
US turning up pressure on EU for ag deal
Last week the European Union showed it was willing to address at least some agricultural issues in free trade agreement negotiations with the U.S. And now, a U.S. government official tells Agri-Pulse the Trump administration is pushing to see just how much it can get from the Europeans.
The Europeans are proposing a scaled-back and very limited proposal to reduce sanitary and phytosanitary trade barriers, EU Trade Commissioner Phil Hogan told reporters earlier this month after he met with U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer.
By the way: Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue, who’s traveling in Europe this week, said a deal that takes on non-tariff trade barriers like SPS issues and the EU’s restrictive policies on biotechnology and gene editing would be a good start. “We think you have to crawl before you can walk and walk before you can run,” Perdue told reporters.
But he also stressed it will eventually be important for the EU to lift tariffs in order to bring down the U.S. trade deficit.
Lighthizer preps for India trade talks in February
Trump is headed to India next month, and Lighthizer will be going there very soon to begin talks that are already well underway to put together a free trade agreement, a U.S. government official tells Agri-Pulse.
There’s no word whether agricultural trade will be included if a deal is reached. Senate Finance Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley said he expects that any pact that is agreed upon will likely be “minimal,” but also “maybe the start of a bigger relationship.”
Still, India – a country of 1.3 billion people – represents a vast potential for U.S. ag exports. The country is a potentially massive market for U.S. distiller’s grains, ethanol and other commodities.
Trump to sign USMCA today
President Donald Trump hosts a signing ceremony at the White House today for the U.S.-Mexico-Canada trade agreement’s implementing bill. Vince Peterson, president of the U.S. Wheat Associates, and a few state presidents for the American Farm Bureau Federation will be among the U.S. farm leaders at the event.
States avoiding USDA hemp regs
Spooked by sampling and testing requirements they say are unworkable, about 18 states so far (but not California) are steering clear of using USDA’s October regulations for their hemp programs. Instead, they’ll stick with the more state-friendly pilot program established by the 2014 farm bill, according to the National Association of State Departments of Agriculture.
But not all states. USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service just approved three new plans from Delaware, Texas and Nebraska, which join Louisiana, New Jersey and Ohio in moving ahead with the new regulations.
Those regs came in for some harsh criticism as hemp producers, processors, states and others that weighed in before today’s end of the comment period. They say onerous sampling and testing requirements, in particular, would cripple the rapidly growing market.
“The requirement to test every lot of hemp within 15 days of the harvest will require a much higher number of plants to be sampled and tested within a much narrower time frame than under familiar state regulatory schemes, such as Colorado’s current industrial hemp program,” the Rocky Mountain Farmers Union said.
Down the road: USDA says it will update its interim final rule. The question is when.
He said it:
“Well, you are the deputy commissioner of policy, but I can understand how discussing policy is somehow out of your comfort zone.” – Rep. Jared Huffman, D-Calif., in a testy exchange with the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation's Grayford Payne, who was unable to answer several policy questions at the subcommittee hearing on water bills.
Sara Wyant, Bill Tomson, Steve Davies and Ben Nuelle contributed to this report.
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