April 20, 2022
April Legislative Update
In recent weeks, President Biden released his proposed budget for FY 2023 spending. This release kicks off a months-long process, in which Congress will create and pass 12 appropriations bills to fund the federal government. It is important to note that in recent years, the appropriations process has taken much longer than its Sept. 30 deadline each year.
In his budget, President Biden calls for a 9 percent increase in funding for the United States Department of Agriculture, with significant portions of the funding going toward agricultural research, conservation technical assistance, and rural broadband expansion.
The budget also earmarks $1.8 billion for climate-related programs. Though an important step in the process, the release of the President's budget is more of a "wish list" for spending, and Congress often differs from the original budget laid out. Congressional offices have begun closing their appropriations requests submissions, ahead of House and Senate deadlines.
Along with appropriations, Congress is also focused on preparing for the upcoming 2023 Farm Bill. On the House side, hearings have been focused on urban agriculture and specialty crops, as well as international trade and tariffs. Lawmakers on the House Ways and Means Committee grilled United States Trade Representative Katherine Tai on future trade priorities, as well as the lack of bilateral trade deals taking place.
Republicans and Democrats showed unanimous support in creating more secure trade policies, remaining competitive in global markets, and addressing rising inflation challenges while taking steps to improve the U.S. economy.
The Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry announced their 2023 Farm Bill kickoff hearing, titled "Growing Jobs and Economic Opportunity: 2023 Farm Bill Perspectives," will be held on April 29 at Michigan State University. The Committee will hear from a not-yet-released witness list of Michigan farmers and agricultural industry stakeholders. Another field hearing in Arkansas is expected to be announced after Senator Boozman's May primary race. These hearings will kick off a months-long process in the Senate of drafting a 2023 Farm Bill.
Finally, Congress is still trying to push a China competition bill across the finish line. Earlier this year, the House passed the $350 billion America Creating Opportunities for Manufacturing, Pre-Eminence in Technology, and Economic Strength Act (America COMPETES Act) and last year the Senate passed the $250 million United States Competition and Innovation Act (USICA).
While there are significant differences between the bills, both aim to bolster investment in domestic manufacturing, increase funding for scientific research and development, and include significant trade policies. One of these policies include General System of Preferences (GSP) reauthorization, which supports the floral industry by containing costs and providing importers and retailers with greater price certainty. Congress will need to go through conference to reconcile the differences between these two bills, which will take months to reach completion.
EPA expands efforts to USDA to reduce nutrient runoff
EPA is working to strengthen its partnerships with various entities and stakeholders to reduce nutrient runoff. EPA's efforts include urging states to include numeric criteria in their water quality standards.
The agency also has plans to increase engagement with ag stakeholders through new quarterly roundtables with ag groups and the continuation of existing forums. Producers are encouraged to attend these meetings and make their voices heard on behalf of the floral industry.
Ag groups file Supreme Court amicus brief in support of Idaho landowners
Thirteen ag groups including the American Farm Bureau Federation and United Egg Producers, among others, filed an amicus brief supporting the arguments of Idaho landowners in a case that could determine the future reach of the Clean Water Act.
The Supreme Court case centers around Chantell and Michael Sackett, who were subject to a compliance order and possible fines for filing a wetland on their property. The Sacketts are asking the Supreme Court to revisit their 2006 Rapanos v. United States ruling, which created two tests for determining the reach of the Clean Water Act.
The outcome of this case will be critical in defining the regulatory reach of the Clean Water Act and the Environmental Protection Agency to a variety of agricultural industry stakeholders, including the floral industry.
March 25, 2022
Chief ag negotiator nominee withdraws
Elaine Trevino, the Biden administration's nominee for chief agricultural trade negotiator at the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative, has withdrawn from the confirmation process. Trevino will still be joining the Biden administration in a "senior role" at USDA.
However, her withdrawal leaves USTR with a prolonged vacancy in a key role for agriculture. It is particularly problematic as the costs of doing business in agriculture continue to increase and creative solutions to inflationary pressures through international trade are necessary.
Another significant ag trade position, the trade undersecretary of USDA, is still without a Senate-confirmed official or nominee as well. Trevino was previously president of the Almond Alliance of California.
House Oversight Committee holds hearing on wildfires and forest management
You might be asking... wildfires in a floriculture newsletter? Unfortunately, growing in California, Oregon and Washington have felt the direct and indirect impacts of wildfires. These events have caused considerable damage to critical infrastructure for production operations as well as the consequences of wildfire smoke damaging flower quality, even when fires are miles away from production sites.
On Wednesday, March 16, the House Committee on Oversight and Reform Subcommittee on Environment held a hearing to discuss the role of the federal government in adopting measures to better prepare and react to larger, severe and more frequent wildfires. The purpose of the hearing was to hear the perspectives of various stakeholders on the best path forward for the prevention of disastrous wildfires.
The hearing was generally quite contentious, with Republican members actively criticizing Democratic policies toward the energy sector and Democratic members speaking on the detrimental effects of logging in national forests. There was also disagreement as to whether climate change or insufficient forest management were the primary cause for the recent increase in large wildfires and on what the practice of forest "thinning" refers to and whether it is beneficial to forest management.
Though little progress toward a solution was evident in the hearing, we expect additional attention and funding support in the year ahead as Congress and the Administration continue to grapple with what feels like ever-increasing frequency and intensity of wildfires.
USDA announces $250 million investment to support additional fertilizer production
On March 11, USDA announced plans to make $250 million available through a new grant program this summer to support innovative American fertilizer production to supply American farmers. This investment was announced to support American farmers with rising costs due to recent supply chain disruptions and to spur competition.
The grants will support fertilizer production that is independent, produced in the U.S., innovative, sustainable, and farmer focused. More details about the application process will be announced in the summer of 2022. USDA is also seeking comments and information about the impacts of concentration and market power in fertilizer, seeds, agricultural inputs and retail, which can be submitted here no later than May 16, 2022. Unfortunately, this program will not affect current prices and any relief to producers as a result of this program would still be years away.
Feb. 18, 2022
The International Fresh Produce Association has continued its focus on supply chain issues over the past few weeks.
Much of the attention in the press has been focused on issues regarding the Canadian border, which we have been particularly attuned to. IFPA has been directly engaged in these efforts to resolve these issues, joining others in agriculture.
There continue to be concerns from our members and the allied industries about the availability of H-2A workers who play a pivotal role for many of our employers, particularly at this time of year.
Given the continued issues with regards to COVID, the challenge of bringing in workers has compounded. While we continue our legislative efforts, we have also been in direct communication with both domestic and foreign officials with regards to these issues, many of which are complicated by the pandemic.
In other news, The Food and Drug Administration has a new leader, Dr. Robert Califf, who was confirmed by the Senate 50-46. Dr. Califf is a strong ally of the fresh produce industry, and we look forward to working with him and the administration on our priorities.
Finally, the House of Representatives has begun hearings on the 2023 Farm Bill, and IFPA is already working closely with our allies in the Specialty Crop Farm Bill Alliance to develop priorities for the specialty crop industry. These issues will be at the forefront of what is anticipated to be a highly debated Farm Bill over the future of American agriculture.
Jan. 24, 2022
With 2022 getting underway, there is much left on Congress’s to-do list. The Build Back Better Bill proposed by President Biden included provisions that would address many of the long standing issues in the fresh cut floral world with regards to access to much needed labor. The bill included provisions to provide legal status for those workers who are currently here that are improperly documented or undocumented.
As things stand today, bipartisan negotiations are on hold in the United States Senate over a path forward on agricultural immigration reform given the stalled Build Back Better bill. Provisions under consideration include a resolution of the status of the current workforce, potential reforms to the H-2A Visa program and a mandatory E-Verify requirement for all employers.
These negotiations, spearheaded by Senators Michael Bennet (D-CO) and Michael Crapo (R-ID) remain on hold until the Senate dispenses with the larger package. The legislative product is guided by the bipartisan Farm Workforce Modernization Act which passed the House last year.
With regards to transportation issues, an extension was granted for Hours of Service for truck drivers, but it does not apply to our industry and only covers livestock and livestock feed haulers.
Despite repeated attempts by other perishable industries including IFPA’s predecessors, United Fresh Produce Association and the Produce Marketing Association, the exemption was limited in scope.
Perhaps more importantly for the industry is to note that as of January 22, 2022, all cross-border travelers must show proof of vaccination for COVID-19. This previously applied to tourists and other travelers but exempted most truck drivers. This exemption expires on Jan. 22.