Ag Secretary Tom Vilsack told a supporter of e-RINs for electricity produced from biomass and biogas to look for action this summer, emails obtained by Agri-Pulse show.

“We are engaged in discussions with EPA on E-rins,” Vilsack wrote in the May 7 email to Thomas C. Peters, President of Gronom Corp. and Angel Energy. "You may be seeing action at long last this summer. Will keep you posted. Not sure it is public knowledge and not a done deal, so you may want to keep this to yourself.”

Peters had sent an email to Vilsack May 1 saying “there are many people who would love to know” why an e-RIN program hasn’t been implemented.

“If you'd like to increase [anaerobic digester] adoption in the dairy industry, this is the way to do it,” said Peters, who attached a white paper he wrote on the subject that criticized the Office of Management and Budget for not adopting an e-RIN pathway. “And, it would certainly go a long way toward helping small dairy farmers to adopt AD and become profitable with their waste, even if they can't make a profit with their milk. Then, maybe so many wouldn't be going out of business every year.”

Vilsack directed adviser Doug McKalip, now the nominee to be the U.S. Trade Representative’s chief ag negotiator, to find out where EPA was on the issue. “Please find out the reason that this has not been approved and what it would take for the EPA to authorize e-RINS,” he wrote May 1.

USTR defends China tariffs, stressing they aren’t ‘punitive’
U.S. Trade Representative Katherine Tai admonished a reporter this weekend for describing U.S. tariffs on China as “punitive,” stressing the duties are actually just a means to balance the trade relationship between the U.S. and China.
“These are not sanctioning tariffs,” she said to reporters during her trip to Cambodia.  “The tariffs that were put down in 2018 were really rebalancing tariffs. They are tariffs to try to level the playing field to overcome unfairness that we have seen and the impacts on the U.S. economy.”
Describing the tariffs as “rebalancing” tools gives them more legitimacy at a time when the Biden administration is being pushed by some to remove them, a trade analyst said.
Tai has previously told lawmakers that she wants to keep the tariffs in place because they give her leverage in dealing with China.
Permitting reform runs into headwinds in Congress
Permitting legislation designed to ease approval of energy projects is running into opposition from Democratic members of Congress.
Majority Leader Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., and Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., said in announcing the Inflation Reduction Act in Julythat an agreement had been reached with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and President Joe Biden to pass permitting reform before the end of the fiscal year.
But Sen. Ed Markey, D-Mass., has become the latest Democrat to announce he’s not comfortable with attaching the permitting language to the Continuing Resolution Congress must pass by Sept. 30 to keep the government running.

As a way forward is discussed, and especially as new anti-environment proposals are being brought to the permitting discussions, we should not attach the permitting overhaul package to the must-pass government funding legislation,” Markey said.

Seventy-two House Democrats signed on to a letter earlier this month to Pelosi and Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md., opposing “attempts to short-circuit or undermine the law in the name of ‘reform.’”

Non-farm income bolsters farmers, rural economies

new study out of the University of Missouri shows how farmers and rural economies can benefit from diversifying their incomes. 

The study, released by CoBank, says only 6.5% of rural jobs were in agriculture in 2019, down from 15% in 1970. Service jobs, including those in retail, health care and food service, accounted for 57% of rural jobs in 2019, compared to 40% in 1970. 

Counties that remain the most dependent on agriculture have tended to lose population. Counties considered dependent on agriculture saw their population decline by 4% from 1974 to 2019.

Meanwhile, 82% of farm household income now comes from off-farm sources. About 56% of the principal farm operators in 2017 had a job off the farm in 2017, compared to just 37% in 1984. Producers under age 35 are even more likely to work off the farm. 

Keep in mind: The increased reliance on off-farm income may be responsible for lower debt-to-asset ratios for farmers, according to the report. "Debt-to-asset ratio analysis and other research shows that off-farm jobs reduce financial risks, which is especially important for younger farmers who face higher debt needs as they grow their business,” CoBank says. 

“The rural economy has become more diverse and more complex than it was even 15 years ago,” said Dan Kowalski, a CoBank vice president. 

FAS awards $300,000 for foreign climate-smart research
USDA’s Foreign Agricultural Service announced Monday it is giving $300,000 to six universities for research into climate-smart ag projects in tropical countries.

“We are pairing some of the United States’ top research institutions and scientists with their counterparts from countries where agriculture is particularly vulnerable to the effects of climate change,” said FAS Administrator Daniel Whitley. “We’re confident that they can collaborate on climate solutions that contribute to food security and agricultural sustainability, both locally and globally.”

The universities will be conducting research projects to benefit Vietnam, Mexico, India, Paraguay, Malaysia and Nepal, says FAS. The participating schools are Tennessee State University, Texas State University, University of Hawaii at Manoa, University of Missouri, University of Nebraska and Louisiana State University.
US and China meet in St. Louis over sustainable ag
Chinese Ambassador to the U.S. Qin Gang and Acting Deputy Undersecretary Jason Hafemeister were both in St. Louis this weekend to attend a roundtable discussion on climate-smart agriculture, hosted by the U.S. Soybean Export Council, according to FAS officials.
Both Qin and Hafemeister made opening remarks and then “industry and government participants from both the countries (with PRC officials and industry reps joining virtually) made brief presentations on how their organizations are meeting the challenges of sustainable agricultural production in a changing climate, including the use of policy, commercial, technological, and other tools,” FAS officials told Agri-Pulse.

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