December 17, 2020

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California’s agtech market has room to grow
Midwestern agriculture has carried the bulk of agtech investment over the years. But that is starting to change, according to Western Growers CEO Dave Puglia.
The “runway in the Midwest is running out,” he said in a discussion for the State Ag Board on Wednesday. Puglia added that technology will help to keep farming viable in the face of rising costs for regulatory compliance and labor in the state. Farm jobs, he said, will not go away as automation progresses but will be replaced with higher-quality work.
With the internal combustion engine’s final days now being counted, Puglia said that is not necessarily something to fear. He was, however, nervous about grid reliability as public safety power shutoffs have become more common.

Dave Puglia
Negotiators near deal
Congressional leaders are looking to pass a massive bill in the next two days to keep the government funded and provide about $900 billion in coronavirus relief. Details of the COVID package had not been released as of Wednesday, but “there’s a sense of urgency for getting this done this week,” said Senate Democratic Whip Dick Durbin of Illinois.
A draft that was making the rounds included a new Dairy Donation Program that would reimburse processors for donated products. The program would be retroactive.
The draft also earmarked $9.9 billion for ag producers and processors affected by the economic fallout of the coronavirus, including contract poultry growers. The draft designated additional funding for specialty crop block grants, local ag markets and other programs.

Gina McCarthy
Biden’s climate czar familiar face to ag
The biofuel industry is counting on Gina McCarthy, President-elect Joe Biden’s pick to be his climate czar, to be favorable toward renewable fuels even though the EPA fell behind on setting annual usage mandates when she ran the agency under former President Barack Obama.
“We’re hopeful we can continue that positive relationship and dialogue we had,” RFA President and CEO Geoff Cooper told reporters.
Keep in mind: During the Obama administration, McCarthy was probably best known to agriculture for her dogged defense of the “waters of the U.S.” rule that expanded the number of wetlands and areas regulated by the Clean Water Act. The Trump administration later replaced the rule.
At one point, McCarthy said some concerns about the WOTUS rule were “just ludicrous” and said she wanted to “ditch the myths,” a jab at the American Farm Bureau Federation’s campaign to “ditch the rule.”
More reaction: Brett Hartl, government affairs director at the Center for Biological Diversity, said he doesn’t doubt McCarthy’s climate change commitment, but her success will depend on how much authority she’s given. “I hope she has the ability to do more than convene interagency meetings and task forces,” he said.
Environment America’s acting president, Wendy Wendlandt, said McCarthy “has worked tirelessly for decades for a stable climate. Together with special envoy on climate John Kerry, this duo will bring assurance to the international community that the U.S. is ready once again to tackle the climate crisis.”
Take note: Brenda Mallory, who served as general counsel of the White House Council on Environmental Quality during the Obama administration, is Biden’s choice to chair CEQ, according to multiple media reports. She is currently the director of regulatory policy at the Southern Environmental Law Center.
Blueberry farmers unite to fight imports
Blueberry groups representing farmers in Florida, Georgia, California and Michigan have united under a new organization – the American Blueberry Growers Alliance – to speak with one voice against the economic harm they say is being done by imports.
“Many family farms have become a casualty of rising imports and are being forced out of commercial production as other countries increase production to deliberately target the U.S. market,” said Brittany Lee, executive director of the Florida Blueberry Growers Association. “If something is not done, we will lose the blueberry industry in the United States.” 
The Office of the U.S. Trade Representative announced an official Section 201 investigation into claims that Mexican blueberries are flooding the U.S. market at unfair prices. But it’s not just Mexico, the growers say. Blueberry imports have surged from a number of countries, especially Chile, Peru, Mexico, Argentina, and Canada, lawmakers said in a recent letter to the U.S. International Trade Commission.
She said it:
“We kind of screwed up 20 years ago.” — Kate Gordon, director of the governor’s Office of Planning and Research. Gordon was describing how the state failed to preserve the infrastructure left behind during the decline of the timber industry and use it for woody biomass removal, as Oregon and Idaho have done.

Steve Davies, Ben Nuelle and Bill Tomson contributed to this report.

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