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READ the NAFB’s National Ag News for Friday, February 15th

WOTUS Definition Hearings Scheduled

The Environmental Protection Agency has rescheduled public hearings on the updated Waters of the U.S. definition. The hearings were scheduled to take place during the government shutdown, but were postponed. The hearings will be held on February 27th and 28th in Kansas City, Kansas. The EPA, along with the Army Corps of Engineers, have submitted the proposed rule to the Federal Register. The 60-day comment period, also delayed by the government shutdown, will close on April 15th. In the Federal Register, the listing says the EPA is defining the scope of waters regulated under the Clean Water Act. The proposed rule is intended to “increase Clean Water Act program predictability and consistency by increasing clarity as to the scope of waters of the United States.” Zippy Duvall, president of the American Farm Bureau Federation, called the release of the proposal a “major step toward fair and understandable water regulation on America’s farms and ranches.”

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Farmland Values Stable, but Risks to Outlook Remain

Farmland values in the Federal Reserve’s Tenth District held steady in the fourth quarter of 2018 despite risks to ongoing stability, according to the Kansas City Fed’s quarterly Agricultural Credit Survey. While demand for farmland remained relatively strong across the district, weaknesses in the crop sector continued to dampen the overall agricultural economy. The report says that risks to the outlook for farmland values in the quarter included slightly higher interest rates and an uptick in the pace of farmland sales in states with higher concentrations of crop production. In addition, continued deterioration in farm finances and credit conditions could put further pressure on values for farm real estate. Looking into 2019, bankers’ expectations for farmland values were slightly weaker than a year ago. Still, the report says the value of farmland continued to provide ongoing support to the farm sector and remained a key factor to monitor in 2019. The Tenth District covers parts of or all of seven different states, including Colorado, Kansas, Missouri, Nebraska, New Mexico, Oklahoma and Wyoming.

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USDA Prioritizes Investments in Telemedicine to Address Opioid Crisis

The Department of Agriculture is giving funding priority in a key grant program for applications to address opioid misuse in rural communities. USDA may award up to 30 special consideration points for Distance Learning and Telemedicine program applications for projects that provide opioid treatment services in 220 at-risk counties identified by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The deadline for applications is April 15, 2019. Outgoing Assistant to the Secretary for Rural Development Anne Hazlett says the focused investment targets USDA resources “to be a strong partner to rural communities.” Last week, the Trump administration announced that Hazlett would move to the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy to serve as a senior adviser for rural affairs, furthering the administration focus on addressing the opioid crisis.

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Sleight to Retire as U.S. Grains Council President And CEO

Tom Sleight, president and chief executive officer of the U.S. Grains Council since 2012, will retire this summer following the appointment of his successor. The Council board of directors made the announcement this week during a membership meeting in Colombia. Sleight says he has “done what I intended to accomplish,” adding he is “confident the Council is headed in the right direction.” In a news release, the organization says Sleight leaves with the organization on firm footing and with expansion on the horizon. The Council was recently awarded nearly $14 million from the Department of Agriculture’s Agricultural Trade Promotion Program, and was also recently awarded an increase in funding from USDA’s market development programs, the Market Access Program and Foreign Market Development program. The board of directors has appointed a search committee comprised of representatives from its membership, including the corn, sorghum, barley, ethanol and agribusiness sectors.

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Senators Introduce Pesticide Registration Improvement Act

Senate Agriculture Committee leaders this week reintroduced the Pesticide Registration Improvement Act. The legislation would establish a framework for EPA when registering pesticides. The Senators, Including Pat Roberts and Debbie Stabenow, say the legislation would support the Environmental Protection Agency “in providing timely approvals of crop protection tools.” The bill also includes protections for farmworkers, including resources to train farmworkers in the safe and responsible application of pesticides. The Senators say the original intent of the legislation has been to create a more predictable and effective evaluation process for pesticide decisions by coupling the collection of fees with specific decision review periods. The legislation includes technical changes and extends authority for EPA to collect updated pesticide registration and maintenance fees through fiscal year 2023. The bipartisan PRIA legislation introduced this week is identical to what passed the Senate unanimously by voice vote in June 2018.

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Rural ACT Test Takers Suffer from Weak Technology

A new study finds that high school students in rural parts of the U.S. face significant challenges accessing technology that may adversely affect their learning. Specifically, the report “Rural Students: Technology, Coursework and Extracurricular Activities,” found rural students lack of access may impede their course-taking success, including the national ACT test. The report focuses on the well-known issue in rural America facing communities and farm families, a lack of quality internet access and the need for broadband connections. The report notes that six percent of schools in the U.S. still do not meet federal connectivity benchmarks. To better serve rural students, the ACT organization recommends finding ways to improve internet and technology access at home and at the school,  increase opportunities for rigorous course taking, and expand opportunities for personalized learning. In positive news for rural students, respondents had greater access to extracurricular activities than non-rural students, including clubs, sports and other school-related activities.

SOURCE: NAFB News Service

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By Brian Allmer - The BARN

Brian Allmer & the BARN are members of the National Association of Farm Broadcasting (NAFB), the Colorado FFA Foundation, the Colorado 4H Foundation, the Colorado Farm Show Marketing Committee, 1867 Club Board Member, Denver Ag & Livestock Club Member, the Weld County Fair Board, the Briggsdale FFA Advisory Council, Briggsdale 4H Club Beef Leader & Founder / Coordinator of the Briggsdale Classic Open Jackpot Show.