NAWG Weekly Update: May 28, 2015

Final Rule on Waters of the U.S. Released
Yesterday, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) released the final regulation identifying water bodies falling under the jurisdiction of the Clean Water Act. EPA & USACE received over 1 million comments and quickly reviewed the comments to release the regulation prior to congressional action to stop the agencies’ action. NAWG continues to review the specific provisions of the 300-page final rule, but is concerned about new provisions impacting the Prairie Pothole Region, identifying it as a national water treasure.

After yesterday’s announcement, several lawmakers expressed concern over the administration’s action to finalize the rule. Congress had been working to block the regulation, introducing legislation in both the House and Senate that would require EPA to rewrite the rules with input from states and affected industries. The House passed their bill earlier this month. NAWG supported both of these bills.

Now that the final regulation has been released, Congress can consider action to formally disapprove of the regulation through the Congressional Review Act during a 60-day review period. Additional information regarding the regulation can be found here.

Senate Passes TPA Bill
On Friday, May 22, the Senate passed legislation to reauthorize Trade Promotion Authority (TPA) on a vote of 62-37. The final vote count can be found here. H.R. 1314 was amended with the text of the TPA bill. Earlier in the evening, the Senate voted 48-51 to reject a controversial amendment from Senator Portman concerning currency manipulation requirements. NAWG opposed the amendment. That vote followed a 70-29 vote on an alternative, scaled-back currency manipulation amendment from Senators Hatch and Wyden, which was viewed as more acceptable to the administration. The House of Representatives is expected to consider TPA reauthorization next week.

NAWG Comments on USDA “Actively Engaged” Rule
The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) issued a proposed rule on March 26 that would make changes in determining whether a farmer is “actively engaged” in a farming operation for purposes of farm program eligibility, as was required in the 2014 Farm Bill. The comment period for the USDA proposed actively-engaged rule closed on Tuesday. NAWG submitted comments in a letter seeking answers to questions that have been raised about applicability of the rule.

NAWG reiterated the importance of ensuring that, while there are certainly some bad actors who may illegally seek farm program payments, USDA continues to be cautious about imposing restrictions on eligibility so that individuals who are legitimately and actively participating in a farming operation aren’t excluded. Additionally, as the structure of farming operations varies across the country and across types of commodities produced, USDA must provide flexibility for local and state FSA officials in making eligibility determinations.

The proposed rule also included a provision seeking comment about whether the regulation should exempt family farming operations, despite specific language in the 2014 Farm Bill requiring USDA to exempt family farms. NAWG is very concerned about this request for feedback and, as such, the letter asks whether the department intends to remove this exclusion in the future.

The letter also seeks clarification about recordkeeping requirements, as well as about how various activities would be differentiated. Ultimately, the letter urges the USDA to be cautious to not restrict individuals who are necessary for the success of a farming operation from being eligible for farm programs.

All comments submitted on the rule can be viewed here, and NAWG’s letter can be viewed here.

Double-Cropping Wheat, Soybeans Allows for Expanded Production, Increased Profits
Over the last decade, growing demand for agricultural commodities has improved returns for farm operators and encouraged increased production. Producing more than one crop in a single growing season is becoming more popular and allows farmers to expand production and potentially increase their economic return on the acre. This week, The Word on Wheat blog discussed the benefits of double-cropping. Multi-cropping practices offer various strategies for intensification by allowing multiple uses of a single field during a single growing season. Double-cropping has gained interest in recent years as a method to intensify production without farmers needing to expand acreage, largely due to improved management practices. Double-cropping wheat followed by soybeans has been a common, profitable option for farmers in most years because double-cropped soybeans yield as well as full-season soybeans. A double-cropping practice should be approached strategically with considerations made for soil and crop management. Click here to read the full blog post. 

ICYMI: NAWG President Blankenship Guest Opinion Article: No Crop Insurance Would Mean No Food
On Sunday, the Spokesman-Review ran a guest opinion article authored by NAWG President Brett Blankenship emphasizing the importance of crop insurance for farmers to the greater benefit of the rural economy, taxpayers and consumers. The full piece can be read here.