China’s hard line on biotech burns U.S. hay
China’s tough new stance on imports of genetically modified crops is shaking up a little-noticed U.S. industry: hay. Over the summer China began testing imports to detect the presence of hay made from a biotech alfalfa that Beijing hasn’t approved. Consequently, shipments to China have plunged since midsummer and some deliveries have been rejected. China’s actions are a sharp blow for shippers of hay, which is produced from alfalfa and other grassy plants and is the fourth-largest U.S. crop by acreage, and valued at $20 billion a year. U.S. hay prices also have fallen about 12%, in part because the reduced Chinese demand boosted domestic supplies. <more>
Dec. 15, 2014 The Wall Street Journal
It’s raining; so how do those reservoirs look?
It’s raining again, and if you believe weather forecasters and the computer models on which they rely, we’re in for wet weather for most of this week.
That comes on top of an outlandish volume of water that fell across the state last week, variously computed as between 17 million and 100 million gallons per square mile to 10 trillion gallons statewide.
That’s great news in our parched state, for sure. By now you know, though, that there always has to be a “but,” or in this case, several.
That’s great news, but remember how it quit raining after a beautiful wet December two years ago?
That’s great news, but the Sierra snowpack is still unseasonably thin.
That’s great news, but the state’s reservoirs are still way below normal.
And the biggest “but” of all: That’s great news, but when will we know for sure the drought’s over?
That final question is tough to answer, and the truth is that unless something surprising (though not unprecedented) happens, we’ll only be able to say whether the drought is really over months and months from now. So I’m going to exercise my privilege as executive blogger and stick to what we can say objectively now, based on the mountain of daily statistics from the state Department of Water Resources.
As to the snow, the DWR California Data Exchange Center publishes a daily summary of water content for the Sierra Nevada snowpack. It’s an important number because the state relies heavily on runoff from the Sierra snows to help fill reservoirs. (How much water is stored in the snowpack? About 15 million acre-feet in an “average” year, according to past DWR calculations. An acre-foot is about 326,000 gallons, and one rule of thumb says that’s about enough to supply two average California households for a year.)
So the snowpack so far this year? As of Monday, it’s 41 percent of normal for the date. That’s not great. If you’re looking for a silver lining to that meager-sounding number, here it is: We’re still early in the season, and historically most of the snowpack is built during January and February. So there’s still lots of time to catch up.
You can say the same about reservoir levels. Right now, storage at the big artificial lakes the state uses to manage its water supply is running far behind normal. A daily state report on conditions at major reservoirs says they’re at about 55 percent of the average for mid-December. <more>
Dec. 15, 2014 KQED
Senate sends tax extenders bill to Obama
The Senate tonight overwhelmingly gave final congressional approval to reinstating more than 50 expired tax breaks, including the Section 179 expensing allowance that some farmers had been waiting on before buying new tractors and other equipment.
The so-called tax-extenders bill, which now goes to President Obama for his signature, also would revive a bonus appreciation allowance along with a series of tax incentives for wind energy and biofuels, including the $1-a-gallon credit that subsidizes biodiesel.
The tax breaks will expire again Dec. 31, because lawmakers were unable to reach a deal with President Obama for a longer-term extension.The bill, approved 76-16, was one of the last items left on the agenda of the lame-duck Senate.
In a victory for agricultural shippers, the Senate also rolled into the legislation a barge fuel-tax increase that would help pay for improvements to waterways including locks and dams on the Mississippi River. The 9 cent per gallon tax increase is matched by general revenue and is expected to raise about $80 million a year.
Sen. John Hoeven, R-N.D., went to the floor this afternoon to read from letters constituents had sent him complaining about uncertainty created by the lapse in tax incentives, including the Section 179 allowance. “If we don't act, taxes will go up on hardworking Americans, on small businesses across this country, on farmers, and so we need to act,” Hoeven said.
The Section 179 provision would keep the expensing limitation at $500,000 for this year, the level that has been effect since 2010. Without the extension it reverts to $25,000. The provision costs the government about $1.4 billion.
The bill, H.R. 5771, also would reinstate a 50 percent bonus depreciation for the purchase of new capital assets, including farm equipment. <more>
Dec. 16, 2014 Agri-Pulse
GMO labeling backers concede defeat
A controversial ballot measure to require GMO labeling in Oregon is done. The Yes on Measure 92 campaign conceded defeat Thursday, acknowledging that the initial results of the November general election wills rand. The group sued in Multnomah County Circuit Court Tuesday in an unsuccessful bid to have 4,600 disqualified ballots counted as part of a recount. The judge ruled against the campaign, saying Oregon law doesn't allow him to issue an order to stop the count. <more>
Dec. 11, 2014 Portland Business Journal
WUD announces Winter Meeting dates
Winter meetings are an excellent place for members to get together with WUD staff and other members from their districts. Dates and cities are listed below, event locations and further details to follow.
Jan. 8: Dist. 2, social 6:30 p.m., dinner 7:00 p.m., Galt
Jan. 12: Dist. 5, social 6:30 p.m., dinner 7:00 p.m., Turlock
Jan. 13: Dist. 7, social 6:30 p.m., dinner 7:00 p.m., Fresno
Jan. 21: Dist. 4, social 6:30 p.m., dinner 7:00 p.m., Manteca
Jan. 22: Dist. 6, social 6:30 p.m., dinner 7:00 p.m., Stevinson
Jan. 26: Dist. 3, social 6:30 p.m., dinner 7:00 p.m., Petaluma
Jan 27: Dist. 10, social 6:30 p.m., dinner 7:00 p.m., Ferndale
Jan. 28: Dist. 1, social 6:30 p.m., dinner 7:00 p.m., Corning
Feb. 4: Dist. 9, social 6:30 p.m., dinner 7:00 p.m., Hanford
Feb. 5: Dist. 11, lunch at 12 noon, Bakersfield
Feb. 5: Dist. 8, social 6:30 p.m., dinner 7:00 p.m., Tulare
Feb. 17: Dist. 12, social 6:30 p.m., dinner 7:00 p.m., Ontario
With fed water bill under the bridge, D.C. legislators look toward 2015 strategy
California lawmakers’ failure to pass water legislation this Congress raises questions about strategy, tactics and the ability to learn from falling short. It also sets the stage for next year when the whole anti-drought drama returns for an encore. On Thursday night, the House was expected to conclude its work for the 113th Congress by approving a $1 trillion omnibus spending bill that funds federal government agencies for nine months. The must-pass bill does not include the California water language sought by some lawmakers and opposed by others. “The lesson,” said Rep. Jim Costa, D-Fresno, “is that there is still a sharp rivalry between the different regions of California.” <more>
Dec. 11, 2014 The Fresno Bee
House approves $1.1 trillion bill financing government
Republicans have muscled a $1.1 trillion bill financing government agencies through the House after President Barack Obama phoned Democratic lawmakers and urged them to back the measure. The House approved the measure late Thursday by 219-206. The compromise bill keeps agencies funded through next September. Many conservatives opposed it because it did not block Obama's recent executive actions on immigration. A large majority of House Democrats opposed it because of provisions easing some restrictions on banks and allowing higher political contributions by big donors. Obama backed the bill and called wavering Democratic lawmakers to persuade them to help it pass. The bill must now be approved by the Democratic-run Senate. <more>
Dec. 11, 2014 AP
Lawmakers put off Clean Water Act fight
The Clean Water Act provisions in the massive fiscal 2015 spending agreement are likely to do little to slow an effort by farm groups to kill a proposed rule defining the law's jurisdiction.
The bill, which is headed to floor votes in the House and Senate in coming days, is silent on the proposed rule. The bill does include a provision ordering the administration to adhere to the existing farming exemptions from the law's Section 404 permitting requirements.
But that language appears “intended to reinforce existing exemptions for discharges subject” to the permit requirements,” said Jon Devine, a senior attorney with the Natural Resources Defense Council. “Since we of course believe that the agencies should follow the law, underlining it is unobjectionable.”
Don Parrish of the American Farm Bureau Federation said the bill doesn't “address any of our concerns” with the proposed rule, which the group argues will significantly expand the law's jurisdiction. The rule defines what areas are regulated as waters of the United States, or WOTUS.
A second provision in the bill would kill a separate interpretive rule that details the standards farmers would have to meet to qualify for the Section 404 exemption, but withdrawing that measure won't be particularly controversial.
Environmentalists said the interpretive rule went too far in defining exempt agricultural practices, but farm groups didn't like the measure either. They argued that it would make the Department of Agriculture's voluntary standards for a range of farming practices, including forage management and fencing, effectively mandatory. Producers likely wouldn't qualify for the Clean Water Act exemptions if they didn't adhere to the USDA standards, farm groups say.
Devine said, “Overall, we are very grateful to congressional leaders and the White House who fought to keep the bill free of a frontal assault on the clean water rule that the agencies have proposed, so that critical effort can continue to move forward.” <more>
Dec. 10, 2014 Agri-Pulse
Big U.S. school districts plan switch to antibiotic-free chicken
Six of the largest U.S. school districts are switching to antibiotic-free chicken, officials said on Tuesday, pressuring the world's top meat companies to adjust production practices in the latest push against drugs used on farms.
The move by districts in New York City, Los Angeles, Chicago, Dallas, Miami-Dade County and Orlando County is intended to protect children's health amid concerns about the rise of so-called "superbugs," bacteria that gain resistance to conventional medicines, school officials said.
However, the change may raise costs for schools because bird mortality rates are typically higher in flocks raised without antibiotics. The six districts, which served at least 2.6 million meals last year, hope to limit costs by combining their purchasing power, officials said.
Under the new standards, all chicken products served in the districts must come from birds that were never fed antibiotics, according to the Urban School Food Alliance, which represents the districts. <more>
Dec. 9, 2014 Reuters
More beef from down under set for U.S. tables as herd drops
U.S. diners are set to tuck into more beef and veal from Australia.
Exports to the U.S. from the third-largest shipper will jump 35 percent to 360,000 metric tons in 2014-2015, the Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics and Sciences said in a report. That’s the highest since 2004-2005.
The U.S. cattle herd started the year at the smallest since 1951 after years of drought forced producers to cull herds, and cattle futures reached a record last month. Prices may rise the most among agricultural commodities next year amid tight supply and strong demand, according to Rabobank International.
“Following prolonged drought conditions, U.S. cattle numbers are the lowest since the early 1950s,” the Canberra-based bureau said in the quarterly report today. “U.S. cow slaughter is not expected to increase in the short term, so cow beef production will remain low and demand for manufacturing beef imports strong.”
U.S. imports of Australian beef and veal accounted for 35 percent of shipments in first four months of 2014-2015 compared with 19 percent a year earlier, according to Abares. The full-year projection makes the U.S. the largest buyer, up from second in 2013-2014, according to the report.
Total exports will reach 1.18 million tons in the year started July 1, little changed from a year earlier, Abares said. Shipments to Japan may drop to 270,000 tons from 280,000 tons, while exports to China may contract 19 percent to 130,000 tons as the higher demand from other markets curbs supplies available for shipment to the second-largest economy, it said. <more>
Dec. 8, 2014 Bloomberg