In the wake of Tropical Storm Hilary, California Sen. Alex Padilla unveiled new legislation Monday aimed at making it easier for specialty crop farmers to get disaster assistance.

The Fair Access to Agriculture Disaster Programs Act, which is co-authored by Sen. Thom Tillis, R-N.C., would “waive the adjusted gross income restriction on producers who derive 75% of their income from farming, ranching, or related farming practices from receiving USDA disaster program relief,” according to an announcement from Padilla, a Democrat.

“Whether from drought drying out our farmland or storms flooding our fields = growing conditions for farmers in California and across the country are facing unprecedented impacts from natural disasters,” said Padilla. “As we approach the farm bill expiration this September, hundreds of thousands of farmers are counting on us to make things right.”

Hurricanes in line to do damage 

The southern U.S. is in the path of two major storms this week.

The National Weather Service is warning of severe impacts from Tropical Storm Idalia as it approaches Florida from the southwest, while Hurricane Franklin approaches the state from the east.

“Idalia is forecast to become a major hurricane early this week in the eastern Gulf of Mexico,” NWS said. “There is an increasing threat of life-threatening storm surge, hurricane-force winds and scattered flash and urban flooding along or in portions of the west coast of Florida, the Panhandle and Southeast beginning on Tuesday.”

Meanwhile, Franklin “remains a powerful major hurricane,” NWS said. As of late afternoon Monday, “life-threatening surf and rip currents are occurring along the coast of the Southeast United States.”

US has lost almost all its rice market in Costa Rica

U.S. rice exports have plummeted to virtually nothing after the country dropped tariffs on the grain from other South American countries and the U.S. lost a trade advantage, according to a new analysis by USDA’s Foreign Agricultural Service.

U.S. exports of un-milled rice to Costa Rica dropped by 98% over the 12-month period ending in June. The U.S., benefitting from tariff-free shipments under a free trade agreement, was exporting as much as $30 million worth of rice before 2022. But that changed after Costa Rican President Rodrigo Chaves began cutting tariffs on rice from South American rice in an effort to reduce food inflation.

“As tariffs on South American-origin rice fell to 5% percent in August, 2022, purchases of U.S. rice all but stopped,” says FAS.

Brazil corn harvest ramps up amid complaints of no transport

The harvest of Brazil’s largest corn crop – the safrinha – is getting close to completion, but farmers are complaining they are having trouble getting the grain to warehouses, according to the consulting firm AgRural.

Brazil has three corn crops, but the safrinha – the crop farmers plant in harvested soybean acreage – is the largest and it’s 83% complete, says AgRural. That’s up from 77% the previous week.

The crop may be coming out of the field at a quick pace, but farmers are reporting problems getting it to warehouses. “In some areas,” says AgRural, “producers complain about the limited availability of trucks and queues for delivery at warehouses.”

House Natural Resources Republicans press Commerce officials for Snake River dam documents

Three Republican members of the House Natural Resource Committee have sent a letter to Commerce Department officials urging the agency to provide them with documents regarding a recent agency report on the Lower Snake River dams. 

The lawmakers – committee Chair Bruce Westerman of Arkansas and members Cliff Bentz of Oregon and Paul Gosar of Arizona – said the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has yet to provide documents they requested relating to an agency report that said breaching of four dams on the Snake River is “essential” to bringing imperiled salmon populations back to harvestable levels. 

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While the lawmakers state in the letter that NOAA held a briefing with the committee, they said the agency “refused to answer certain questions, and then refused to address why they couldn’t answer certain questions.” 

FCC seeks new members for precision ag task force

The Federal Communications Commission plans to recharter the Precision Agriculture Connectivity Task Force for a third term and is seeking producers from historically underrepresented communities to participate, according to a statement from chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel.

The task force, which was established in the 2018 farm bill to advise the FCC on how to deploy broadband for precision agriculture, will complete its work in January 2025, Rosenworcel said. The panel also works with the USDA.

Nominations can be sent to and must be submitted by Sept. 20.

Four populations of frog in Oregon, California listed under Endangered Species Act

The Fish and Wildlife Service is protecting four populations of the foothill yellow-legged frog in California and Oregon, in part because of impacts from agriculture. 

The service will list as endangered the South Sierra and South Coast Distinct Population Segments. It will list as threatened under the Act, the North Feather and Central Coast DPS’s.

“Agriculture is a source of threats to the foothill yellow-legged frog because of agriculture’s role in habitat degradation, the contribution of pesticides and pollutants to the environment, and its role as a driver of other threats such as altered hydrology and spread of nonnative species,” the service said in the final rule, published in today’s Federal Register.

Steve Davies and Noah Wicks contributed to this report. 

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