WASHINGTON, Dec. 5, 2016 - Next year is going to be a big year for a new farm bill. Farm groups and lawmakers are getting an early start and the dairy industry is making good headway. Minnesota Rep. Collin Peterson, the top Democrat on the House Agriculture Committee and key farm bill architect, told Agri-Pulse he sat down with representatives of the National Milk Producers Federation Thursday morning to continue crafting a revamp for the Margin Protection Program.

Peterson confirmed that he’s working on adjusting the program so that it pays out more to farmers who sign up for coverage under the subsidized insurance program. That, he said, will make it more expensive, but expressed optimism for success.

USDA data shows that only about 19 percent of the 25,663 farmers that enrolled in MPP this year received payments. The program paid out $11.2 million in August, but that money only went to farmers who paid extra premiums for higher coverage.

The National Milk Producers Federation, in a statement given to Agri-Pulse on Saturday, said: “Our members are currently examining changes that will make the dairy Margin Protection Program more reliable and effective. We are also engaging in bipartisan discussions with congressional agriculture leaders on our desire to make changes in the near term, instead of waiting for the current farm bill to expire at the end of 2018.  Fixing the dairy margin program to improve its ability to help farmers better deal with volatility must be a priority for our industry, Congress and the new USDA.”

Heitkamp reveals little about meeting with Trump. North Dakota Democratic Senator Heidi Heitkamp met for an hour Friday with President-elect Donald Trump, but she didn’t give away much on the purpose of the meeting and did not address speculation that she was being considered for a cabinet post.

“President-elect Trump and I had a thoughtful and wide ranging discussion on a variety of issues important to North Dakota and the country,” she said in a statement. “We talked about finding a realistic path forward for coal and combating human trafficking, as well as the Export-Import Bank and keeping jobs in the U.S., energy infrastructure including the complexities of the Dakota Access pipeline and the challenges for law enforcement as well as the Keystone pipeline, and the issues facing small community banks that help support rural towns.”

Heitkamp, who sits on the Senate Agriculture Committee, did not mention farming in the statement or address speculation that she was being considered to lead USDA.

CropLife petitions EPA on use of epidemiology studies. CropLife America has petitioned the Environmental Protection Agency to establish clear criteria for how it determines which epidemiological studies to include in pesticide risk assessments.

CLA, the trade organization that represents pesticide manufacturers, has asked EPA to suspend regulatory decision making, specifically for organophosphate pesticides, until it has come up with criteria and guidance.

 “CLA recognizes that epidemiological studies can provide important data for risk assessment, but this does not mean that such studies are equally relevant or reliable,” said Janet Collins, CLA’s executive vice president for science and regulatory affairs.

The group is particularly concerned about EPA’s decision to use the Food Quality Protection Act’s safety factor in evaluating organophosphates. EPA recently proposed revoking food tolerances for chlorpyrifos, a widely used organophosphate, relying in part on an epidemiological study from Columbia University. But "neither EPA nor the registrant have access to the data" underlying that study, CLA said. 

Vilsack wants more women leaders at USDA and ag sector. It’s not good enough to just have more women working at USDA and in the ag sector, USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack said Friday in an event to highlight the department’s “Women in Ag” initiative. There needs to be more women leaders in the government, farm groups and agribusinesses, he stressed.

Just a day after his official portrait was unveiled, Vilsack lamented that there was only one painting of a female secretary on USDA’s walls. Ann Veneman, the first and only female agriculture secretary who was appointed by President George W. Bush, traveled from her home in New York to attend the unveiling of Vilsack’s portrait.

Vilsack spoke after Alexis Taylor, the third most powerful official at USDA and Under Secretary for Farm and Foreign Agricultural Services. Friday was Taylor’s last day on the job at USDA. She has been chosen as Oregon’s next agriculture secretary.

A big piece of USDA up for sale. If you have a minimum of $5 million you can put a bid on the USDA’s historic Cotton Annex building. The six-story, 118,000-square-foot building sits on 1.4 acres just across the street from USDA’s Washington headquarters. It’s been empty for years, but was once used for the Food Safety and Inspection Service’s docket clerk, public meetings and other events.

The auction began Dec. 1 and runs through Jan. 31. The minimum bid is $5 million and the minimum bid deposit is $1 million. So far there are no bidders, according to the Government Services Administration auction site.

He said it: “Like Henry VIII said to one of his wives, I won’t keep you long.” That was Senate Agriculture Committee Chairman Pat Roberts, promising he would speak as long as Rep. Collin Peterson did at the unveiling ceremony for USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack’s portrait last week.

Steve Davies contributed to this report.


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