NAWG Weekly Update: June 19, 2014

House Agriculture Committee Meets to Discuss Clean Water Act Exemptions
The House Agriculture Committee Subcommittee on Conservation, Energy and Forestry, held a public hearing to review the interpretive rule regarding the applicability of the Clean Water Act (CWA) on agricultural exemptions. Chairman Glenn ‘GT’ Thompson (R-Pa.) presided over the hearing, which included two panels. The CWA was originally intended to allow the federal government to regulate navigable waters; but recent court decisions have questioned the definition of which bodies of water are “navigable” and if the CWA has jurisdiction over them. Due to this uncertainty, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) proposed a rule to clarify the waters of the United States and also issued an interpretive rule to explain how the proposed rule would impact CWA exemptions for agriculture. Robert Bonnie, United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) undersecretary for natural resources and environment sat on the first panel and defended the interpretive rule claiming it would make it easier for farmers to be exempt from seeking a permit. Members of the subcommittee argued today that the rule actually creates more uncertainty and new regulatory burdens. Meanwhile, over on the Senate side, Kansas Senator Pat Roberts and 29 other senators introduced a bill that would prevent the EPA from implementing its proposed rule. Senator Roberts stated he “wants to make sure that the expansion of regulator jurisdiction over “waters of the U.S.” is shelved for good.” NAWG appreciates the efforts of both the House and the Senate to scale back this rule and not allow the EPA to micromanage every day farming practices. To read more about NAWG’s position on the CWA and other environmental regulations you can visit our website.

Senate Starts Debate on Ag Appropriations Bill
The Senate began its debate on the FY15 Agriculture Appropriations Bill on Wednesday. The Senate bill, which passed out of the appropriations committee in May with no objections, is now being considered as part of a “minibus” of appropriations bills that also includes Commerce, Justice, Science and Transportation and Housing and Urban Development Appropriations bills. It is still unclear how debate for the agriculture spending bill will progress since no agreement on amendments has been made. Meanwhile, Senator John Thune (R-S.D.) filed an amendment yesterday that would reprogram $2 million in the Natural Resources and Conservation Serve (NRCS) budget to address the backlog of wetlands determinations in all states. In a statement regarding his amendment Thune said, “With a backlog of more than 3,000 undetermined wetlands in South Dakota these farmers cannot apply any water management practices on their land because they do not know where NRCS will determine wetlands are located. Some farmers have been waiting two or more years for these determinations.” This provision is even more important now with the impending implementation of applying conservation compliance requirements to crop insurance premium assistance. NAWG is supportive of Senator Thune’s efforts to address the backlog issues in South Dakota and other states in the prairie pothole region.  Late this afternoon the appropriations “minibus” was pulled from the Senate floor schedule when Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) unveiled his plan for amendments. Senator Reid wanted to require a 60-vote threshold for amendments to pass; a strategy that Republicans rejected causing the Senate to pull the bill and the path forward to passage left unclear.

 NAWG Participates in Multi-Crop Innovation Project
Several commodity organizations, including NAWG, met this week in St. Louis, Mo. for the Cross-Commodity Working Group to discuss ways to cooperate on projects that benefit innovation across crops. Following a prior meeting in February 28, the Group identified key breeders across five different crops to provide information on how they currently confirm that breeding material is free of unwanted or unlicensed genetically modified (GM) events. Many breeders expressed interest in the development of a simple tissue test that could be used to determine whether breeding lines contained known GM events. In cooperation with the Indiana Crop Improvement Association, the Group is working on the development of methods and tools to address issues of low-level presence in public sector breeding programs, including a testing program to help breeders ensure that promising accession lines do not contain unanticipated traits. The testing program is part of a larger Breeder Guide that provides tools to improve stewardship throughout the crop improvement process. In addition to reviewing progress on the Guide, the Group also discussed the potential impacts of Big Data, pollinator health, and implementation of cover crops across the five crops.

 House Holds Leadership Elections
The House Republicans held leadership elections today after Majority leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) lost his primary last week. The conference voted to elevate Congressman Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) to majority leader and elected Congressman Steve Scalise of Louisiana to take McCarthy’s place as majority whip. The new leadership team will take place after Cantor steps down from his position on July 31

 NAWG attends field to market meeting
NAWG vice president Brett Blankenship, a wheat farmer from Washtucna, Wa., and staff represented NAWG at the plenary and board meeting of Field to Market: the alliance for sustainable agriculture in Fayetteville, Ak. The group heard reports from several of the field pilot projects underway and discussed next steps and issues including data privacy. NAWG has been a member of Field to Market for several years. For more information on Field to Market click here.

2014 World Food Prize Laureate Named
Dr. Sanjaya Rajaram, an accomplished plant scientist, will be honored as this year’s World Food Prize Laureate for his life long work to increase wheat production around the world. Dr. Rajaram worked alongside Dr. Norman Borlaug and considers him one of his biggest mentors. Dr. Rajaram research in crossing winter and spring wheat varieties has led to significant increase in yields as well as the ability of the wheat to thrive in multiple environments. His research has also had a profound impact on food availability worldwide. The award presentation will be in Des Moines, Iowa on October 16. To learn more about Dr. Sanjaya’s work, visit the World Food Prize website.