December 18, 2020
Daybreak will be taking a break for the holidays and will return Monday, Jan. 4. The Agri-Pulse team wishes you a safe and joyous season.
Urban sprawl threatens more farmland, warns climate group
In a new report, the California Climate and Agriculture Network (CalCAN) reviewed two incentives programs aimed at developing affordable housing and conserving ag lands. Funding for the programs has been drying up this year as cap-and-trade revenues continue to decline.
This means “California is at great risk of maintaining an unsustainable pattern of sprawl development,” the report finds. The group fears the demise of the climate-smart programs would “lock communities into increasing greenhouse gas emissions.”
CalCAN listed several recommendations for incentivizing infill development and protecting ag land, which they argued would speed up the state’s economic recovery as well.
On that note: The quarterly cap-and-trade auction held in November generated only slightly more than the last one, which hit a record low. State budget analysts are encouraging lawmakers to be cautious with their expectations for future auction revenues, given the growing uncertainty over the program.
The state has received nearly $600 million from the November auction. About $117 million will go to affordable housing programs, while $147 million goes to high-speed rail and the rest is for transit and safe drinking water projects. The report does not detail any dollars for climate-smart ag programs or ag equipment upgrades.
Biden rejects Nichols in tapping leaders for EPA, Interior
President-Elect Joe Biden has picked Rep. Deb Haaland, D-N.M., to head the Interior Department, and Michael Regan, secretary of the North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality will – if confirmed – be administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency.
Environmental justice advocates objected to choosing Air Resources Board Chair Mary Nichols, who was widely seen as a natural fit for the job.
The picks also help diversify his leadership team: Haaland is Native American and Regan is African-American.
Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., was thrilled with the pick of a fellow progressive for Interior. Haaland “would not just represent the first Native woman in charge of federal lands, but she brings a philosophy of both a commitment on climate and justice,” AOC told reporters.
Take note: Last year, Haaland introduced the Climate Stewardship Act with Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J. To reduce greenhouse gas emissions, the bill would dramatically expand the Conservation Stewardship Program and Environmental Quality Incentives Program at USDA and fund the planting of more than 15 billion trees on federal lands and around the country.
Regan is an air expert who worked on climate change issues at the Environmental Defense Fund and also spent part of his career in the air program at EPA.
As we reported earlier this week, he’s been involved in implementing new monitoring requirements for hog operations.
Read more about Regan as well as Haaland here
Fights emerge over ag, PPP, SNAP
Congress faces a midnight deadline to keep the government funded. As of Thursday evening, it wasn’t clear whether lawmakers would be asked to pass a very short-term stopgap spending bill to provide the time they need to pass a massive bill that would include both government funding for fiscal 2021 as well as a big new COVID aid package.
Congressional leaders struggled to finish the COVID piece Thursday as fights emerged on a series of issues. According to lawmakers, those struggles included demands by House conservatives for restrictions on food stamps and objections to the deductibility of expenses used to get forgiveness of Paycheck Protection Program loans.
Senate Agriculture Chairman Pat Roberts, R-Kan., indicated to reporters that negotiators also had still been working out the balance between spending for agriculture and nutrition assistance. “I think we’ll work it out,” he said. A bipartisan proposal released earlier this week split $26 billion evenly between ag and nutrition programs.
State of play: Late Thursday afternoon, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi told reporters that the talks were going “fine” but she gave no timetable for wrapping them up. “We'll have our announcement when we have our announcement.” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said on the Senate floor that the talks were “still underway and making progress.”
Block sees CRP acreage increase as positive
John Block, a former Reagan-era secretary of agriculture who helped develop the Conservation Reserve Program as part of the 1985 farm bill, thinks increasing the acreage cap would be a good step. House Ag Chairman Collin Peterson, D-Minn., has proposed to double the size of the program to 50 million acres.
“Even though they may not do that much, we’ve got a new administration coming in, and I think they are going to be concerned about global warming and everything related to that. And this is one way agriculture might be in business with this thing,” Block told Agri-Pulse.
He said increasing conservation acres is one way to address that issue and could show how the agriculture community would be willing to work with the incoming administration.
By the way: Block worked with the late Sen. Dick Lugar, R-Ind., to overcome opposition from then-Office of Management and Budget Director David Stockman to get CRP authorized in 1985.
South Korea fills 2020 quota for US rice
More than a year ago South Korea pledged to buy at least 132,000 metric tons of U.S. rice annually. And this week, that goal has been reached with just two weeks left in the year, according to the USA Rice Federation.
The U.S. and South Korea reached a deal on the country-specific quota in November of last year and it was implemented on Jan. 1. But there were concerns that the COVID-19 pandemic might interfere.
The quota turned out to be more valuable than expected. The U.S. government originally estimated the value of the quota sales at $110 million. They turned out to be worth more than $130 million, says USA Rice.
He said it:
“The weeds are dead. You don’t have to hire high school kids to go out and hoe them.” — Former Ag Secretary John Block, referring to how biotechnology has changed crop production.
Steve Davies, Ben Nuelle and Bill Tomson contributed to this report.
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