READ the NAFB’s National Ag News for Tuesday, December 29th

Sponsored by the American Farm Bureau Federation

Trump Signs Appropriations/COVID Relief Bill

After threatening to veto it earlier, President Trump signed the combined fiscal year 2021 omnibus appropriations and COVID-19 relief bill on Sunday. Pro Farmer says Trump’s signature means more aid is coming to farmers, and a 15 percent increase in Supplemental Nutrition Assistance benefits will take place over the next sixth months. The signing also eliminates a possible government shutdown. Trump is demanding changes in the bill, but Congress is not required to follow that direction. “I will sign the omnibus and COVID package with a strong message that makes clear to Congress that wasteful items need to get removed,” Trump says in a statement. “I will send back a redlined version, item by item, accompanied by the formal rescission request to Congress insisting that those funds get removed from the bill.” The bill includes extensions for tax incentives for biofuels and renewable biofuels, benefits for rural healthcare providers, and a two-year water resources authorization bill that may help speed up waterway construction projects. The bill also provides new help for contract livestock growers, hog producers who had to depopulate herds, cotton processors, biofuel producers, and the dairy industry.

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Federal Judge Rejects USDA Changes to H-2A Program

A federal court in California issued a preliminary injunction against the Labor Department’s decision to freeze farm workers’ wages for those that use the H-2A Guestworker Program. Fruit and Nut Grower News says the freeze would effectively lower the wages of several hundred thousand guest farm workers employed by U.S. farmers. A preliminary injunction was issued in federal court in Fresno, California, in a lawsuit filed by the United Farm Workers and the UFW Foundation, with both groups represented by Farm worker Justice. The new regulation was to take effect on December 21 and regulate wages beginning in January. A Farmworker news release says the Labor Department estimated that H-2A guest workers would lose wages totaling $57 million in 2021, $139 million in 2022, and an average of $170 million annually over ten years. The DOL says that U.S. farm workers not under the H-2A program will also lose wages. The H-2A program has been expanding in recent years. The Labor Department approved more than 275,000 visas under the program in the fiscal year 2020. The State Department also issued more than 204,000 H-2A visas in 2019.

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Meat and Poultry Worker COVID Infection Rates Lower than General Population

A new analysis of independent data for November shows that reported new COVID-19 infection rates among meat and poultry workers were more than eight times lower than the general population. Data from the Food and Environment Reporting Network says the meat and poultry sector reported an average of 5.57 new cases per 10,000 workers daily in November. Infection rates among meat and poultry workers have declined steeply in the last six months while surging across the U.S. The New York Times reports that during the same period, the average new case rate for the U.S. population was 45.36 cases per 100,000 people per day. The analysis follows a Centers for Disease Control decision this month to prioritize vaccinating frontline meat and poultry workers. Meat Institute President and CEO Julie Anna Potts says, “This new analysis is encouraging evidence that the more than $1.5 billion in comprehensive protections implemented since the spring have reversed the pandemic’s impact on the selfless men and women who keep America’s refrigerators full and the farm economy working throughout COVID-19.”

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Ag Export Destinations Shift Over Previous 25 Years

The U.S. is the world’s second-largest agricultural trader after the European Union. U.S. agricultural exports grew significantly over the last 25 years, from $46.1 billion in 1994 to $126.7 billion in 2019. It’s no surprise that Canada and Mexico are two of the top destinations. The elimination of agricultural trade barriers through the 1994 North American Free Trade Agreement, which was then superseded by the U.S.-Mexico- Canada Agreement in July 2020, almost quadrupled exports by value to Canada and Mexico. Coinciding policy developments, rising household incomes, and changing trade policies in developing East and Southeast Asia are driving U.S. export growth, especially for China. The Chinese share of U.S. agricultural exports more than quadrupled from three percent during 1994-2000 to 14 percent between 2010 and 2019. Meanwhile, there’s been a sharp decline in the share of American exports going to Europe and higher-income countries in East Asia, such as Japan. Of the $136.7 billion in 2019 exports, 29 percent went to East Asia and 29 percent to Mexico and Canada.

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Groups Praise WRDA Passage in COVID Relief Bill

The fiscal year appropriations bill that President Trump signed includes a reauthorization of the Water Resources Development Act. The Hagstrom Report says It funds the Army Corps of Engineers civil works program that builds and maintains the ports and inland waterways that are vital to the agriculture industry. Senator Chuck Grassley of Iowa says, “it’s important that Congress pass a Water Resources Development Act every two years. It helps communities move forward with projects critical for things like flood control, navigation, ports, locks and dams, and more.” Bobby Frederick of the National Grain and Feed Association says, “We view WRDA as an opportunity to enhance U.S. inland waterways and port infrastructure.” Waterways Council President and CEO Tracy Zea says, “In a difficult COVID-19 environment, passing WRDA is a significant achievement for modernizing the inland waterway systems, potentially providing more than $1 billion in additional construction funds over the next ten years.” Corn Refiners Association President John Bode says, “WRDA is a signature achievement in maintaining global competitiveness for American agricultural exports, and the millions of American jobs they support.”

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EU Approves Post-Brexit Deal

European Union ambassadors approved a provisional application of the E.U.-United Kingdom future relations agreement, paving the way for implementing the deal on January 1. A spokesperson for the German Presidency of the Council of the E.U. tweeted that, “E.U. Ambassadors have unanimously approved the provisional application of the E.U.-U.K. Trade and Cooperation Agreement as of January 1, 2021.” Politico says while the go-ahead from the ambassadors is an important step, official approval will likely come on Tuesday (today). Some countries like Sweden still need to consult their national parliament. Final adoption of the trade text will be done via a written procedure, which means that countries send a note of consent to the E.U. Council. Brussels and London clinched the U.K.-E.U. trade deal on December 24. The European Commission presented the treaty as an E.U.-only agreement with a limited provisional application, which means the E.U. can provisionally implement the agreement with the approval of E.U. countries, but without the consent of the European Parliament. The British Parliament has been called back for December 30 to ratify the deal, which is highly likely to pass.

SOURCE: NAFB News Service

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.