D.C. Watch: Focus on climate change and Clean Water Act

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The government released a study called the National Climate Assessment last week that  contends that climate change is already affecting our weather and that the impacts will get significantly worse if no action is taken. The study was mandated by Congress and was produced by more than 300 experts with oversight from a panel of 60 scientists. One of the lead authors of the chapter on agriculture says “one of the major takeaways from the report is that agriculture can adapt, but protecting land and water resources will become more critical”.

A letter signed by more than half of the members of the House of Representatives is calling for the Environmental Protection Agency to back off of its proposed rule to expand federal control under the Clean Water Act. The proposed rule would redefine what qualifies as “waters of the United States” under the law. The letter contends that EPA’s proposed rule would directly contradict prior Supreme Court rulings that imposed limits on the extent of federal Clean Water Act authority. EPA’s analysis says the proposed rule results in a 2.7 percent increase in jurisdictional determinations and impact an additional 1,332 acres (not a typo!) nationwide and would cost between $133 million and $231 million annually. A comment period for EPA’s proposed rule is open from now through July 21.

Applications for the Agricultural Conservation Easements Program and the Voluntary Public Access and Habitat Incentive Programs are now being accepted. The programs will provide up to $386 million to help farmers restore wetlands, protect working agricultural land and boost rural economic activity, according to Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack. Funds are available to purchase agricultural land easements that protect ag use and conservation values of eligible land. Applications must be submitted by June 6 – or the individual state deadline – whichever is earlier. For information, contact the local USDA Service Center or visit www.nrcs.usda.gov/GetStarted.

A study prepared by PG Economics calculates the economic and environmental benefits of crop biotechnology. The study concludes that adoption of the technology has significantly reduced the release of greenhouse gas emissions and the use of chemical pesticides. Crop yields are higher and less land is required to produce soybeans, corn, canola and cotton. The net economic benefit in 2012 was put at about $47 per acre with the highest yield gains in developing countries. The analysis shows an economic return of $3.33 for every $1 spent on the technology. The study claims that the majority of benefits associated with crop biotechnology are in developing countries.

The Mexican government is in the process of making changes that will allow the country to import U.S. beef derived from cattle of any age. Imports have been limited to cattle 30 months of age or younger for the last several years; the restrictions were imposed in response to the BSE cases of a decade ago. The process is expected to be completed in a few days. The U.S. accounts for about 90 percent of Mexican beef imports and U.S. exports to Mexico rose by 26 percent year-over-year at the beginning of this year.

The new Census of Agriculture shows that there were 2.109 million farms in 2012, but nearly 900,000 farms have gross sales of less than $5,000. Farms with sales of more than $1 million make up 4 percent of the total, but produced 66 percent of the total market value of ag production. More than 20 percent of farmers have been farming for less than 10 years, suggesting an infusion of young people getting into the industry. The average age of farmers is 58.3, up from 57.1 reported in the last census in 2007. The Census of Agriculture data can be found at the nass.usda.gov website.


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