May 14, 2020
Assembly advances proposal for cutting ag’s climate footprint
Despite pushback from several farm groups, the Assembly Natural Resources Committee passed a couple of ag bills yesterday in its first post-pandemic hearing.
Of those, Assembly Bill 2954 proposes a pathway for including natural and working lands within the next scoping plan for California’s AB 32 climate goals. The Climate and Agriculture Network (CalCAN) joined with The Nature Conservancy in supporting the bill.
Yet, several prominent ag groups came out in opposition, along with business groups. The California Chamber of Commerce said the bill focuses heavily on an industry contributing just 9% of global emissions. The California Farm Bureau argued it left out thousands of current sequestration projects.
“For land stewards to do even more than they're already doing, they need financial incentives,” added Farm Bureau’s Taylor Roschen.
She pointed out the state funding in this area has been inconsistent and its future budget is not looking any better. Roschen also said it would also create winners and losers among farmers and lead to even more consolidation.
The measure passed, with Ag Chair Susan Eggman abstaining. “I'm taking everything into context of the world that we're living in right now,” she said.
On that note: The committee also passed AB 3256, a $7-billion climate, wildfire and water bond. The bill proposes $150 million to CDFA for filling out its climate-smart ag funding.
Asm. Robert Rivas, D-Hollister, presented AB 2954 (2019 photo)
ICYMI: Newsom’s directive benefits one of his biggest donors
In our Agri-Pulse West Newsletter this week, we investigated Newsom’s ties to one of the nation’s wealthiest families through a directive he issued to CalEPA.
Heiress Anna Getty was among the signatures on a letter to Newsom last month asking for an executive order to significantly reduce pesticide use in the Ojai Valley. Newsom then directed his agency to focus “strong” enforcement on pesticide regulations during the pandemic. It frustrated ag commissioners but was celebrated by Getty’s activist group as a win.
The Getty family has collectively donated more than $500,000 to Newsom’s election campaigns, dating back to 1998. Anna Getty and her husband waited until Newsom’s gubernatorial campaign in 2018 to become donors. They then contributed more than $25,000.
Ag groups are urging the state to deliver more FARMER funding for Butte County, which is now one of six counties to move to the next stage of reopening.
House heads to partisan showdown on stimulus bill
It looks like farm groups will largely stay on the sidelines as the House moves toward a vote on Democrats’ giant coronavirus relief bill, even though it would authorize $16.5 billion more in direct farm payments plus other aid to producers.
The House Rules Committee meets today to prepare the $3 trillion HEROES Act for debate on the floor, where the vote is certain to be along party lines. The committee also will consider a separate measure that would authorize remote proxy voting so lawmakers don’t have to go to the House chamber to vote.
The American Farm Bureau Federation hasn’t taken a position on the coronavirus bill despite liking some of the ag provisions. The National Farmers Union, which more frequently aligns with Democrats on legislative issues, hasn’t endorsed the bill either.
But in a statement to Agri-Pulse, NFU did welcome the bill’s ag and nutrition provisions. “While the CARES Act provided much-needed short term relief for agriculture, it was just the tip of the iceberg as far as what will ultimately be required to keep farmers in business and ensure that everyone has access to food.” The CARES Act enacted in March provided $23.5 billion for farm relief.
President Donald Trump’s take? “It’s, as they say, DOA,” he said.
By the way: The bill would expand the popular Paycheck Protection Program that many farms and agricultural employers have taken advantage of.
The eight-week period for loan forgiveness would be extended to 24 weeks, and the program’s deadline would be changed from June 30 to the end of the year. The bill also eliminates the requirement that 75% of PPP loan proceeds be used for payroll to get the loan forgiven.
‘Plant-based’ doesn’t go far enough for milk producers
The Plant-Based Foods Association has released standards for labeling non-dairy yogurt products that recommend using terms such as “plant-based,” “dairy-free,” or “non-dairy” in a prominent position.
Makers of those and other products are fighting efforts by milk producers at both the federal and state level to prevent them from using dairy terms.
The National Milk Producers Federation dismissed the standards as insufficient. NMPF’s Clay Detlefsen said: “Putting forth a voluntary standard that simply codifies illegal behavior does nothing more than allow malefactors to pick and choose whether they feel like following the law, depending on their perceived marketing gain.”
Broadband providers seek permanent fix
As COVID-19 tests internet connectivity across rural America, broadband providers are calling on Congress to take a long-term approach to expanding service.
Shirley Bloomfield, CEO of NTCA – The Rural Broadband Association, told the Senate Commerce Committee on Wednesday that lawmakers should encourage the use of better technology and make sure that infrastructure is deployed right the first time.
“We certainly wouldn’t use our highway program to create a two-lane road when we know that an eight-lane highway is what is going to be needed five to ten years down the road,” Bloomfield said.
Take note: As if on cue, the video-conferenced hearing wound up illustrating the challenges of relying on the internet. Gene Kimmelman, a witness with a public interest group called Public Knowledge, was in the middle of talking to the committee when his audio cut out just as he was saying this:
“Wow, just think of the gut punch this virus has delivered to all of us. It’s really demonstrated just how dependent we are on a high quality, fast-speed, video-capable broadband...”
By the way: Bloomfield and other witnesses said companies are having a hard time sourcing personal protective equipment for employees.
He said it:
“This is not an urgency. There is no COVID relationship.” - Dennis Albiani, legislative advocate for the California Grain and Feed Association, arguing against a bill that would disrupt the supply of organic byproducts used in cattle feed. The measure still passed Natural Resources.
Steve Davies, Ben Nuelle and Bill Tomson contributed to this report.
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