November 13, 2020
United Fresh: Immigration reform is ‘biggest issue’ for 2021
Once the dust has settled in Washington, attention will turn to passing an immigration bill next year, according to the United Fresh Produce Association in a webinar this week.
“The question is: Will there be some administrative steps taken to address DACA [Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals] and some of the issues with regards to H-2A?” said Randy Russell, who provides legislative counsel to United Fresh. “I don't think we know until we know the players.”
Mollie Van Lieu, who directs nutrition policy at United Fresh, said changes in the Senate Ag Committee will be “somewhat challenging for us,” since the group is losing some close allies. Russell said they will focus on bipartisan support to build momentum.
DPR denies petition on neonic-treated seeds
The Department of Pesticide Regulation (DPR) has rejected a petition by several prominent environmental groups to regulate seeds treated with the neonicotinoid class of insecticides. If approved, the proposal would have considered the seeds as restricted materials.
According to the California Seed Association, DPR did not completely dismiss the concerns. The department plans to “initiate marketplace surveillance targeted at these products to determine how, where and for what purposes they are being used.” The results will inform potential actions.
DPR launching sustainable pest management workgroup
DPR Director Val Dolcini on Thursday said his chief priority is to establish a sustainable pest management workgroup to develop a “roadmap” for decreasing chemical pesticide use in the state. The group will develop tools, techniques, protocols and practices “to manage pests in a more sustainable fashion.”
Dolcini hopes to appoint the members soon and begin work in January, with a roadmap ready in 18 months.
“I'm really excited for that opportunity to continue the work that the chlorpyrifos group started,” said Dolcini.
Food industry appeals for vaccine priority
Now that a COVID-19 vaccine could be on the horizon, the food and restaurant industry is appealing to the government to prioritize inoculating their workers.
“Prioritizing vaccinations for food, agriculture, retail, and CPG (consumer packaged goods) workers will be a key intervention to help keep workers healthy and to ensure that agricultural and food supply chains remain operating,” industry groups say in a letter to the White House.
The groups that signed the letter included the Consumer Brands Association, FMI - The Food Industry Association, International Dairy Foods Association, National Restaurant Association, North American Meat Institute and the United Fresh Produce Association.
By the way: There’s a separate concern about the ability of health care providers to distribute the vaccine, which has to be stored at low temperatures. The CDC “has advised state health departments against purchasing ultra-cold freezers - which cost $10,000 to $15,000 each - saying other vaccines with less demanding storage requirements will be available soon,” according to an article in the journal Stat.
Court fight continues over labor survey
USDA and the United Farm Workers are battling in court over a judge’s decision ordering USDA to reinstate the Farm Labor Survey, which is used to set minimum wages for H-2A workers.
USDA says now that the Labor Department has issued a rule freezing the H-2A wage rates for two years, there’s no need for the survey.
But UFW argues in a court filing there is still a live controversy because the new wage methodology isn’t effective until Dec. 21 and may never take effect if it’s successfully challenged. UFW plans to sue the Labor Department to block the changes in the H-2A program.
USDA transition chief said to be key ag ally
An agricultural adviser to the Biden campaign says the Obama administration veteran overseeing USDA’s transition team, Robert Bonnie, will be a valuable ally in upcoming debates over climate policy.
Phil Karsting, who served with Bonnie at USDA, calls him “a bridge builder” who has “real-world experience from having managed his own farmland and forest land.” Karsting, who was the administrator of USDA’s Foreign Agricultural Service, was speaking on a webinar sponsored by the Kansas City Agri-Business Council.
“Climate will be a big issue for discussion in the coming Congress, and if I were a farmer I would want Robert Bonnie in the room when those dissuasions come up, precisely because he is a bridge builder and not a flame thrower,” Karsting said.
We reported Thursday on how Bonnie is pushing the idea of establishing a carbon bank at USDA to buy and sell agricultural carbon offsets.
Take note: The new Food and Agriculture Climate Alliance that we also told you about Thursday will be formally announced next Tuesday. The group, which has developed more than 40 policy recommendations, will include the American Farm Bureau Federation, Environmental Defense Fund, National Council of Farmer Cooperatives and National Farmers Union.
Poll: Public wants ‘sustainable’ farming
A new poll sponsored by the American Farm Bureau Federation finds that the vast majority of Americans think producers should be farming sustainably.
Eighty-four percent said it was either very or somewhat important that farmers be involved in environmental sustainability, which was defined as “farming practices that protect natural resources, such as promoting soil health, conserving water, enhancing wildlife and efficiently using nutrients.”
More than half the respondents rated farmers’ environmental practices as either excellent (17%) or good (41%).
"Support for farmers’ sustainability efforts swelled when government data was shared about achievements,” AFBF said. Survey respondents were told farmers have put 140 million acres in conservation programs, “more than doubled the amount of renewable energy sources they use, and nearly tripled the amount of food grown in the last 70 years with the same or fewer resources.”
He said it:
“At the core of all of this, of course, is our mission of protecting public health and the environment—that's central to everything that we do.” — DPR Director Val Dolcini on the new sustainability workgroup.
Steve Davies, Ben Nuelle and Bill Tomson contributed to this report.
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