The outcome of the presidential race isn’t known at this hour, but several results of the election already are clear.
The blue wave that Democrats were hoping for didn’t materialize, in part because President Donald Trump appears to have maintained his strong rural base.
Democrats retained control of the House, but one of the biggest stories of the night for farmers and ranchers was House Ag Chairman Collin Peterson’s reelection loss in Minnesota. Peterson has led the committee’s Democrats during the writing of the last three farm bills.
Peterson's loss means three of the four leaders of the Senate and House Ag committees will be new next year.
Republicans are in position to retain control of the Senate, although the final result may not be known until Jan. 5, when Georgia will hold one and maybe two runoff elections. The key GOP victors Tuesday included Joni Ernst in Iowa and Steve Daines in Montana. Also, North Carolina GOP incumbent Thom Tillis declared victory late Tuesday.
Read our full coverage of the election results in this week’s Agri-Pulse newsletter and at Agri-Pulse.com.
Farmworker advocates decry H-2A wage cuts
A leading advocacy group for farm workers says the Labor Department’s changes to H-2A wage cuts will likely cut worker pay by even more than the DOL estimates and will also result in wage cuts for domestic workers.
A final rule announced by DOL on Monday would freeze the H-2A program’s adverse effect wage rates, or AEWRs, for two years. Starting in 2023, the rates will be based on a broad labor cost indicator that will keep the rates from rising as much as they have been under current rules. The AEWRs are now tied to an annual USDA survey of farm labor wages.
“In the name of ‘predictability’ for employers, the Trump administration is allowing businesses to hire an unlimited number of temporary foreign workers at below-market wage rates, in violation of the law’s prohibition against adverse effects on US workers’ wages caused by the hiring of guestworkers,” said Bruce Goldstein, president of Farmworker Justice.
DOL says the wage cuts are likely to encourage farms to hire more H-2A workers, and Goldstein’s group says that means the rule is likely to result in steeper cuts to wages than the department is estimating.
Keep in mind: Goldstein says his group is considering a legal challenge to the DOL rule.
Farm groups say that H-2A wages have been rising sharply every year in many states, sometimes by double-digit rates.
Farmers look to buy machinery in 2021
The improvement in commodity markets has more farmers thinking about upgrading machinery next year.
Some 14% of producers are planning to increase purchases of farm machinery next year, according to the monthly Ag Economy Barometer sponsored by the CME Group and Purdue University. That’s up from 11% in September and 4% in May.
About one-third plan to reduce their purchases in 2021, down from 65% in May.
The barometer, which measures current farm economy conditions, surveys roughly 400 agriculture producers across the nation each month.
USTR ready ‘to take action’ on USMCA
Senate Finance Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley says U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer shares his concerns about Canadian and Mexican compliance with the new North American trade pact and is ready “to take action.”
“I think we’re properly prepared for whatever action might be taken,” Grassley, R-Iowa, told reporters after a recent meeting with Lighthizer.
Grassley’s concerns mirror those of others on Capitol Hill and in the U.S. ag sector. Mexico, despite agreeing to a new chapter on biotechnology in the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement, is not approving any new seed traits. Canada is restricting new tariff rate quotas that it promised to set up for U.S. dairy.
US dairy lauds USTR’s move on Indonesia
Back in 2018, the National Milk Producers Federation and the U.S. Dairy Export Council complained Indonesia was hindering imports of U.S. dairy by requiring local partnership arrangements as a prerequisite to get import licenses.
But Indonesia has now scrapped the trade restriction thanks to tactics employed by USTR as it negotiated Indonesia’s ability to keep its status under the Generalized System of Preferences, the dairy groups said Tuesday. The GSP allows developing countries to avoid some duties on exports to the U.S.
“We appreciate the work invested by the U.S. government to use the GSP review process to ensure that Indonesia complies with its trade obligations under the terms of the GSP program,” said NMPF President and CEO Jim Mulhern.
EPA seeking input on farm pests
EPA is asking for input on an updated list of “pests deemed of significant health importance,” which was last released in 2002.
Available today, the list will include several new pests, such as the brown dog tick, and describe new public health impacts, such as Zika fever and the coronavirus. The list is used to prioritize public health efforts.
“EPA, CDC and USDA collaborated to update the list to incorporate significant changes regarding vector-borne diseases and related research, and eliminate gaps or ambiguities in the current pests list,” EPA said.
EPA specifically asked whether there are any pests, such as the Asian giant hornet or the Turkestan cockroach, that should be added to the list.
USDA looks to stop COVID-19 benefit fraud
USDA’s Food and Nutrition Service issued a rule Tuesday to, as FNS put it, “safeguard the integrity” of SNAP benefits under the Pandemic-EBT program.
Without the rule to “align P-EBT with certain existing SNAP integrity regulations,” FNS said it would not be able to “efficiently and effectively address misuse by firms of P-EBT benefits or SNAP benefits, and both P-EBT and SNAP program integrity would be adversely impacted.”
Under the final rule, if a firm commits violations involving P-EBT benefits, such as trafficking P-EBT benefits or trafficking a combination of P-EBT and SNAP benefits, then the firm will be subject to sanction, which could include permanent disqualification or a civil money penalty.
Assuming that P-EBT benefits are trafficked at a rate similar to SNAP benefits, $151 million in P-EBT benefits could be trafficked, USDA says.
She said it: “Biden stepped up, he showed a plan, he showed a commitment to rural America.” – former Iowa Lt. Gov. Patty Judge.
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