Union leaders are looking to Joe Biden to lead the way for new protections for employees in the ag and food sector, including overtime for farmworkers. 

Biden is “going to prioritize everyone’s health and safety,” United Farm Workers President Teresa Romero said Monday on a webinar organized by the Biden campaign. She said farmworkers are too often “excluded from basic rights like overtime, hazard pay, the right to organize.”

Keep in mindBiden has called for making farmworkers eligible for overtime nationwide and promised to increase protections from pesticide and heat exposure. He also has pledged to push for providing legal status to undocumented farmworkers. 

Marc Perrone, president of the United Food and Commercial Workers International, supports Biden’s call for a national mask mandate and praised his running mate, Kamala Harris, for backing hazard pay for essential workers. 

Biden and Harris “would stand in support of those workers and they would stand in support of making sure that people were safe at work,” Perrone said.  

By the way: The National Milk Producers Federation posted a statement on Monday noting the industry’s essential workers couldn’t take Labor Day off. "Wholesome nutrition is a never-ending need. Cows don’t stop producing milk because it’s a holiday. Dairy never stops, and neither will its workforce,” the statement said. 

New round of US-UK trade kicks off

U.S. and British negotiators are due to restart trade talks today as the Dec. 31 deadline for the U.K. to break away from the European Union approaches.

British trade minister and lawmaker Greg Hands confirmed the resumption of talks, but he also suggested agricultural trade issues will continue to be a divide between negotiators. “As (British International Trade Secretary Elizabeth Truss) and I said … the government is absolutely committed to no compromise on our food safety, animal welfare and the environment when it comes to trade agreements,” he said in a Friday tweet.

British claims that U.S. food is unsafe or unsanitary because of beef, pork and poultry production methods continue to chafe U.S. negotiators and U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer recently called the criticisms thinly-veiled protectionism.

“We will have agricultural problems in negotiations, I can guarantee you. I’m hopeful that we’ll work our way through them,” Lighthizer said in a June hearing on Capitol Hill.

US beef exports rebound in July

U.S. beef exports shot upward in July, buoyed by increased sales to China, Taiwan, Canada and Hong Kong, but shipments are still significantly lower than what they were last year as the U.S. industry recovers from the recent impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, according to a new analysis from the U.S. Meat Export Federation.

"With production returning to near-normal levels, we definitely saw an improvement in beef exports, though the recovery was not quite as strong as expected," said USMEF President and CEO Dan Halstrom.

The U.S. exported 107,298 metric tons of beef in July. That was a 36% increase from June, but also 9% less than in July of 2019, USMEF said in the report. The group pointed to lower demand from Japan, Mexico and South Korea for the decline from last year.

Hemp industry hopes for delay of regs

The hemp industry is hoping USDA’s request for comments on multiple aspects of its pending hemp regulations is a signal that the department will suspend the requirements before they become effective Oct. 31.

The Agricultural Marketing Service is opening a 30-day comment period today asking for input on how plants are destroyed, hemp research, and allowable THC levels and testing — both the methods used and the requirement that plants be harvested for testing in a 15-day harvest window. Many have recommended a 30-day window.

Patrick Atagi, board chairman of the National Industrial Hemp Council, said he hoped the comment extension means USDA is leaning toward extending the hemp pilot program from the 2014 farm bill for another year. That’s something NIHC and the National Association of State Departments of Agriculture asked USDA to do last month.

Twenty-two states and 34 tribes have received approval for plans to implement the department’s 2019 rule, but the industry argues that the COVID-19 pandemic has slowed other states’ efforts to submit plans. 


Lawmakers cite FNS survey in questioning USDA reopening

Members of Congress from the Washington, D.C., area are urging Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue to suspend what they called “a rushed and flawed plan” for reopening the department. A letter the lawmakers sent to Perdue cites a survey of employees of USDA’s Food and Nutrition Service.

Eighty-eight percent of the nearly 400 bargaining unit employees in Northern Virginia said after reading plans for reopening offices provided by USDA, they were not comfortable physically reporting, said Daniel Cline, who leads the bargaining unit for the National Treasury Employees Union.

The survey also showed that 84% said they were afraid to report to the office because they were afraid they might expose family and friends. About half the employees said they rely on public transportation to commute, and 57% said they would be worried about using it.

Advanced energy grant going toward soil health

The Soil Health Institute will use $3.25 million from the Energy Department to develop “an integrated soil carbon measurement and monitoring system” that will provide “standardized carbon sequestration monitoring needs for carbon markets in agriculture,” the institute said Thursday.

The technology will reduce both the time and cost of obtaining soil carbon measurements, enabling farmers to more easily participate in carbon markets.

“The integrated DeepC System combines sampling design, proximal sensing, and machine learning to obtain rapid, non-destructive measurements of soil carbon stock and flux," SHI Chief Scientific Officer Cristine Morgan said.

The funds come from the department’s Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E).

She said it. “We have always known that farmworkers are essential. Now, the federal government has recognized that farmworkers are essential. We need to start treating them like every other worker in this country.” – UFW President Teresa Romero. 

Questions? Tips? Contact Philip Brasher at philip@agri-pulse.com