NAWG Weekly Update: March 17, 2016

NWIC Holds Fly-in to Advocate for Research Funding

The National Wheat Improvement Committee (NWIC) held a fly-in this week to hit the Hill to discuss the importance of federal investment into agricultural research programs.  NWIC is comprised of public wheat breeders as well as wheat farmers from across the country; its purpose is to fortify the nation’s wheat improvement research capacity.  NWIC’s 21 participants visited nearly 50 offices, including most of the Members of the House and Senate Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittees.

Through a collaborative effort, NWIC members developed a priority list of appropriations requests that it views as required to sustain the research that is necessary to improve the productivity of U.S. wheat farmers.  The specific items NWIC members discussed with Congressional offices include fully funding the U.S. Wheat and Barley Scab Initiative and a bump up in funding for the Small Grains Genomic Initiative.  In addition to visiting the Hill, NWIC members met with key contacts in USDA to discuss the need for increased research funding and provide awareness of issues impacting further innovation in wheat.  Dr. Paul Murphy, NWIC Chairman from North Carolina University, and Vice Chair Dr. Robert Zemetra, a wheat breeder from Oregon State University, led the committee’s educational efforts on the Hill.

Senate Unable to Pass Biotechnology Labeling Bill

This week the Senate took up Chairman Roberts’ bill (S. 2609) along with his substitute (Amendment 3450) that would implement immediate preemption, preventing the Vermont labeling law from going into effect on July 1, 2016 and the current state-by-state patchwork efforts. In a 48-49 vote on Wednesday the Chairman’s bill failed, as his efforts to implement voluntary disclosure, under the direction of USDA, were thwarted. The Chairman made strides to find a bipartisan solution that included a survey after one year of voluntary labeling products to determine if a 70% threshold of participation of labeled foods with disclosure related bioengineering was met. If not met, USDA would implement a mandatory labeling program that would utilize SmartLabel, websites and phone numbers. Unfortunately, this was not enough to garner the necessary 60 votes. Chairman Roberts and Ranking Member Stabenow will continue to work together over the Easter recess to find a solution agreeable to both sides before the Vermont law is realized.

Industry Coalition Seeks to Join Lawsuit in Defense of EPA

On March 16, 2016, an industry coalition consisting of the National Association of Wheat Growers, CropLife America, the American Seed Trade Association, the Ag Retailers Association, the National Cotton Council of America, the American Soybean Association, and the National Corn Growers Association asked a federal court to allow them to join the lawsuit Anderson v EPA. The coalition seeks to join the lawsuit to defend EPA’s current regulation of neonicotinoid seed treatments and to ensure that the court and EPA understand the vital importance of treated seeds to American agriculture.

“NAWG is pleased to join the coalition seeking to intervene in Anderson vs EPA. Seed treatments are a vital technology in protecting planted seeds and seedlings as they emerge,” says National Association of Wheat Growers President Gordon Stoner, a grower from Montana. “We take this action on behalf of wheat growers across the country, to ensure these critical technologies are available to all growers.”

NRCS Solicits Applications for Regional Conservation Program

This week NRCS announced $260 million available for approved projects through the Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP). RCPP focuses on collaborative projects to improve water quality, soil health, address drought and provide wildlife habitat on agricultural lands. Project proposals should leverage financial and technical resources of partners that are coming together to address a specific resource need.   NRCS will review the projects based on solutions, contributions, innovation and participation.  Projects can focus on a state resource concern, or can be regional, multistate proposals. Funding for projects will be provided through the Environmental Quality Incentives Program, the Conservation Stewardship Program and USDA wetland, farmland and forestry easement programs. Pre-proposal applications must be submitted by May 10, 2016.  Additional information regarding the application process can be found here. Information on past projects and the RCPP can be found here.

Powdery Mildew Resistant Wheat Cultivar Introduced by Calyxt, Inc.

Calyxt, Inc., New Brighton, MN., a research and development company, has announced it has produced a wheat cultivar using the Talen® gene editing technology. The new cultivar is claimed to be resistant to powdery mildew, a foliar disease of wheat that is a challenge to wheat grown in moist environments. With the cultivar’s new resistance to the disease, farmer’s need to apply costly chemical fungicides will be potentially reduced or eliminated, saving farmers profitability and time, as well as increasing their wheat quality. According to Calyxt, Inc., the environmental and consumer health benefits are the result of the modification of one native gene, resulting in a natural-derived resistance to the fungal pathogens that cause powdery mildew disease. Because it does not change the wheat’s basic biology or composition, USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) has determined that this wheat is not regulated under 7 CFR Part 340 and can be commercialized without further oversight. That means this cultivar is NOT considered developed through biotechnology. With this determination, the new variety is not subject to USDA regulations under the Plant Protection Act. NAWG is very supportive of plant innovations that will provide U.S. wheat growers the opportunity to become world leaders in wheat innovation, gain tools to increase their productivity and profitability, and encourage the development of new and better technologies.

House Budget Committee Approves FY 2017 Budget Resolution

The House Budget Committee considered a FY 2017 budget resolution proposed by Committee Chairman Tom Price (R-GA) on Wednesday.  After an extensive markup, the Committee approved the resolution on a 20-16 vote, mostly along party lines.  The budget resolution does not specifically include any policy provisions directly attacking farm programs or crop insurance.  However, with the potential for full chamber consideration, NAWG is closely following developments and will actively work to oppose any amendments that would undermine agricultural support programs if the budget resolution comes before the full chamber. Additionally, the House Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee held a number of hearings this week to review various components of the Administration’s FY 2017 USDA budget request, including rural development and agricultural research programs, as well as a hearing with officials overseeing the Farm Service Agency and Risk Management Agency.  The hearings coincide with the Subcommittee’s funding request deadline on Tuesday, which will lead to potential Committee consideration of a funding bill in the coming weeks.