NAWG Weekly Update: March 12, 2015

U.S. Wheat Organizations Join USACC in Renewing Call for End to Cuban Embargo
After participating in a “learning journey” to Cuba, March 1 to 4, U.S. Wheat Associates (USW) and the National Association of Wheat Growers (NAWG) joined members of the U.S. Agriculture Coalition for Cuba (USACC) in reiterating a call for Congress to end the U.S. embargo. USW Assistant Director of Policy Ben Conner and Kansas wheat farmer Doug Keesling represented the U.S. wheat industry on the trip. U.S. wheat farmers join USACC in support of ending the embargo entirely. “We will seize every opportunity to expand trade and Cuba is no exception,” said NAWG President Brett Blankenship. “Cuba represents untapped trade potential within our own hemisphere, and an end to the embargo would greatly benefit the U.S. export economy. Our wheat growers stand with America’s farm and business leaders to promote trade with Cuba today, tomorrow and well into the future.” While ongoing travel and financing restrictions negatively affect the export potential for U.S. wheat farmers in Cuba, the largest market in the Caribbean, competitors in the European Union and Canada freely sell wheat to Cuba. Even if the U.S. government loosens its trade policies, the larger political implications of an ongoing embargo create an unstable business environment for the United States and Cuba. Last week’s visit included more than 95 U.S. agricultural leaders who met with officials of the Cuban government and learned about initiatives being undertaken in Cuba to boost food production. Their experiences also demonstrated how a meaningful relationship with the United States could benefit the Cuban people and provide new opportunities to match Cuba’s import needs while increasing its agricultural production capacity. Click here for the full release.

Join NWF for a National Ag Day Breakfast Briefing
All are invited to join the National Wheat Foundation and the wheat industry on Wednesday, March 18, for a bagel breakfast and briefing to celebrate National Ag Day. The briefing, themed “Innovation and the Future of Agriculture,” will gather wheat and ag industry experts to discuss important issues impacting the next generation of agriculture, including: biotechnology, sustainability, big data and research. More information about the event is available here.

Please RSVP to: if you plan to attend.

Waters of the U.S. Hearing Scheduled for House Agriculture Committee
On Tuesday, March 17, the House Agriculture Conservation & Forestry Subcommittee will hold a hearing on the Waters of the U.S. regulation. The regulatory proposal issued last year has faced opposition from agriculture, business, and state and local government due to the lack of clarity provided by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Environmental Protection Agency.  The regulation could expand the jurisdiction of the Clean Water Act and encompass ditches and ephemeral streams, potentially impacting agricultural activities where these features are present.  The Administration has said they will issue a final regulation this spring without additional time for public review and comment, despite the over one million comments that were received prior to the public comment deadline last Fall. EPA officials have stated they will make changes to the regulation to reflect comments, but without additional time to review the proposal before it would go into effect, there is growing concern about the actions EPA will take. NAWG will be joining several other agriculture commodity associations in providing joint testimony at the hearing next week. To watch the hearing live, visit the House Agriculture Committee’s website here.

CSP Sign-up ending soon
NRCS is undertaking a sign-up for the Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP).  CSP was revised and reauthorized in the 2014 Farm Bill, and producers seeking to enroll for the first time or to renew their contracts can do so now, but time is running out. The deadline for new enrollment is Friday, March 13 and for contract renewals it is Tuesday, March 31. NAWG hosted a CSP listening session at Commodity Classic last month for producers to provide feedback to NRCS regarding the program and improvements that could be made to CSP enhancements and the operation of the program.  To review the list of available enhancements, please click here.

Visit your local USDA Service Center for more information regarding program sign-up.

New Farm Bill Program Sees Payments to Producers Rise
This week, forecasts by the Congressional Budget Office and the University of Missouri’s Food and Agriculture Policy Research Institute predicted that the new farm programs will surpass payouts seen under the old system of direct payments, potentially reaching $7 billion annually over the next few years. While these payments will go to grain and oilseed growers, the sharp decline in corn prices in recent years indicates that the majority of these payments will go to corn growers. Read more about new farm programs here, courtesy of Agri-Pulse.

Senate Finance Chair Expresses Desire for Presidential TPA
Chairman Orrin Hatch (R-UT) of the Senate Finance Committee stated his desire, early this week, to have legislation that provides the President with fast-track trade authority ready by April. He and the committee’s Ranking Member, Democratic Senator Ron Wyden of Oregon, are in continuing negotiations to this effect. Enactment of Trade Promotion Authority is seen as critical to the President Obama’s ability to wrap up the 12-nation Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement this year. The United States is hosting a meeting of the TPP negotiators in Hawaii this week. NAWG supports Congressional efforts to grant President Obama TPA to streamline both the negotiation process with our international partners and the approval process of such agreements in Congress, which would eliminate the ability to amend international trade treaties in Congress and have an up-or-down vote on all trade agreements.