The Department of Labor is cracking down on an array of farms in the Mississippi Delta that officials say violated terms of the H-2A visa program. The department identified violations by 44 employers in the region after looking into allegations made by black farmworkers. 

The department says it’s recovered $505,540 in back wages for 161 workers, and employers have also paid $341,838 in civil penalties, 

According to the department’s Wage and Hour Division, some of the violations involved showing “preferential treatment” toward temporary H-2A agricultural workers and failing to pay the required rate of pay to U.S. workers in corresponding jobs. The farms also made illegal pay deductions and failed to fully disclose employment conditions or provide accurate information on work and bonus opportunities. 

“The outcome of these investigations confirms that employers in the Mississippi Delta denied a large number of marginalized farmworkers their lawful wages, and in some cases, violated the rights of U.S. workers by giving temporary guest workers preferential treatment,” said Audrey Hall, the Wage and Hour Division district director in Jackson, Mississippi. 

Take note: The largest concentration of H-2A workers is in the South

Regulatory surgeons go to work on WOTUS

EPA and the Army Corps of Engineers want to employ what might be called precision regulation as they revise the “waters of the U.S.” rule whose legality has come into question because of the Supreme Court’s Sackett decision in May.

EPA ag adviser Rod Snyder told Agri-Pulse Wednesday the agencies would be taking a “surgical” approach to amending the rule issued in January, whose enforcement has been enjoined in 26 states. The revisions are due out by Sept. 1. His comments came after the government asked a court in North Dakota to stay litigation in that court brought by 24 states. 

What it means: Just the fact that the rule will remain in place, albeit with some changes, is significant. That suggests the administration doesn’t want to completely abandon the approach used in the rule, which relied on the “significant nexus” approach to establish jurisdictional connections between ephemeral streams and wetlands and “navigable waters.”

“It will be interesting to see how much the surgeons have to ‘cut,’ given the court’s decision,” said Rafe Petersen, a lawyer with Holland & Knight with extensive experience in Clean Water Act litigation. “I’d guess that they are going to provide details on how to show a continuous surface connection.”


Drought tightens grip on key states

A drought continues to deepen in key states of the Corn Belt. Some 32% of Iowa is now in severe to exceptional drought, up from 14% a week ago, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor. Conditions have also worsened in Illinois, going from 15% to 31% severe to exceptional drought. Iowa and Illinois are generally the top two producers of corn and soybeans. 

Some 43% of Missouri and 55% of Nebraska are rated in severe to exceptional drought. 

Ukraine negotiates for better access to Danube for grain exports

Ukraine Ag Minister Mykola Solskyi has been meeting in recent days with counterparts in Romania and Moldova to try to secure new access to the Danube, a river key to Ukrainian grain exporters. River access, which allows Ukrainian grain shipments to reach the Black Sea, may become even more important soon as Russia threatens to end the Black Sea Grain Initiative, a deal that allows Ukraine to export its ag commodities out of three ports in Odesa.

Moldova has proposed a new tariff system that raises rates when trade volumes rise, according to the Ukrainian ag ministry.

Romania is considering measures that would give its grain exporters priority access to its Port of Constanta on the Black Sea during harvest season, according to a recent Reuters report.

Ag leaders call for food aid support

A coalition of farmers and ag leaders, including several former U.S. agriculture secretaries, is calling on congressional leaders to protect funding for international food aid.

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“Promoting international development and global food security has long been a bipartisan priority supported by Republican and Democratic administrations and Members of Congress from both sides of the aisle,” the group says in a letter to congressional leaders. “As you and your colleagues continue your legislative work this year, we urge you to support critical programs and resources that advance U.S. leadership in global food security.”

The letter was organized by the U.S. Global Leadership Coalition’s Farmers for Prosperity.
Take note: The letter notes that “11 of America’s top 15 trading partners were once recipients of U.S. foreign assistance.”

This Bud’s for rice? Farm group lauds new beer maker’s ad campaign

Anheuser-Busch has seen its share of controversy after the Bud Light promotion with transgender influencer Dylan Mulvaney, but the beer maker has a new campaign, and the USA Rice Federation is backing the effort that highlights farmers’ role in making the iconic suds.

Arkansas rice farmer Eric Vaught is highlighted in the latest Anheuser-Busch “We make the beer” ad, says USA Rice.

“USA Rice is proud of our partnership with Anheuser-Busch, the largest end user of rice in the U.S.,” said USA Rice President and CEO Betsy Ward. “A healthy Anheuser-Busch benefits all American rice farmers as they not only source all their rice from U.S. farms, they are generous, longtime supporters of the Rice Stewardship Partnership, a program that helps fund the industry’s commitment to conservation and sustainability. Investments like these are what sustain our industry.”

He said it. “There's just fundamentally a ton of confusion right now. We want to try to avoid that and get this done quickly.” – EPA’s Rod Snyder, on the need for the Biden administration to issue a revised WOTUS rule by Sept. 1. 

Noah Wicks, Steve Davies, Bill Tomson and Spencer Chase contributed to this report.