SFNToday Headlines for Wednesday March 21

Groups Celebrate National Ag Day on Tuesday

U.S. Ag Secretary Sonny Perdue says National Ag Day has played a big role in helping people understand where their food and fiber comes from and how important agriculture is to our national economy. “Our farmers, ranchers, foresters, and producers in America are feeding and clothing the world, and it’s important to never forget that,” says Perdue. Chuck Conner, President and CEO of the National Council of Farmer Cooperatives, says National Ag Day is a great opportunity to showcase agriculture across the country and celebrate the wide variety of crops produced. “Events like National Ag Day are essential for connecting with consumers and telling the fantastic success story of American agriculture,” Connor says. Growth Energy CEO Emily Skor says her organization is happy to join the chorus of voices thanking farmers for their contributions to the nation’s economy. Skor adds, “National Ag Day is an opportunity to shine a light on the challenges that are currently facing America’s hardworking family farmers who are struggling because of low commodity prices.” National Farmers Union is also recognizing the valuable contributions of family farmers, who make up 99 percent of America’s 2.1 million farms and 89 percent of the country’s total agricultural production.

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Partisan Farm Bill a No-Go in the Senate

Iowa Senator Chuck Grassley says the Senate Ag Committee is on track to release a bipartisan farm bill after the Easter recess. Politico says Grassley is warning lawmakers that a Republican-only bill coming out of the House would have no chance of getting through the upper chamber. Bipartisan farm bill talks are stalled in the House amid complaints from Democrats on the Agriculture Committee who say they’ve been largely cut out of the negotiating process and haven’t been given an opportunity to review the bill’s text. They’re particularly interested in potential changes to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. House Ag Chair Mike Conaway, a Texas Republican, hasn’t indicated whether he’ll yield to pressure from Democrats to share the bill’s text or if he’ll go ahead with a partisan measure. Grassley recently met with Senate Ag Chairman Pat Roberts to talk about things the Iowa Senator would like to see included in the Senate’s version of the farm bill. Grassley says the staff is starting to draft a farm bill and Roberts said he’d like to start the process after the Easter recess.

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USDA Looking for More Funding Applications to Improve Broadband Access

Anne Hazlett, Assistant to the Secretary for Rural Development, says the USDA is accepting applications for grants to fund broadband infrastructure projects in unserved rural communities. She says e-connectivity is essential to the economic vitality and quality of life in rural communities. “Investing in broadband can strengthen rural economic growth and improve critical access to jobs, education, healthcare, and social services.” USDA is accepting applications through May 14 in the Community Connect Program. Grants ranging from $100,000 to as much as $3 million are available to state and local governments, federally-recognized tribes, nonprofits, and for-profit corporations. Applicants must be able to provide a 15 percent match on the grant amount they’re looking for. The funds must be used to provide broadband service at a minimum rate-of-data transmission of 25 megabits downstream and 3 megabits upstream. That’s the official speed benchmark that the Federal Communications Commission has adopted for broadband connectivity. Grant recipients must also use the USDA funding to offer free broadband service to all critical community facilities in their proposed service area for two years. For more information, go to www.rd.usda.gov.

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Farmer Advocacy Needed to Protect the RFS

The National Corn Growers Association says concerns linger that the Trump Administration could cut a deal with the nation’s oil refiners that could put a big dent in ethanol demand. In turn, that would have a negative impact on the price of corn. The National Corn Growers remains active on its members’ behalf, including running a major advertising campaign in the Washington, D.C., area. The proposal from the refinery industry to cap the price of Renewable Identification Numbers (RINs), is something that the president is said to be considering. The NCGA wants leadership to know that would cut farm income almost $4 billion per year for the next two years. The organization also wants the president to understand there are better options out there, including allowing the year-round sale of ethanol blends greater than 10 percent. That idea would lower RIN values to address refiner’s concerns by blending more ethanol. The NCGA says farmers can’t afford a bad deal and need to let the White House know their opinions on the matter.

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Ag Bankers, Accountants Oppose Sugar Policy Modernization Act

The Hagstrom Report says almost 60 banks and certified public accountants that all do business with sugar growers fired off a letter to the House and Senate Ag Committees opposing the Sugar Policy Modernization Act. The legislation would make changes to the American sugar program. The bankers and accountants say in the letter, “We’ve had the opportunity to review the ‘Sugar Policy Modernization Act’ that sugar policy opponents proposed to Congress in November of 2017.” They told the committees that it’s clear the food-manufacturer opponents of sugar policy do not know what the bankers and accountants know. If this bill, or its individual elements, is adopted, it would force an oversupply in the U.S. sugar market and would effectively remove the price safety net for American sugar farmers. The collapse of domestic sugar producers would cause major disruptions in the supply chain for food manufacturers and American consumers. The economic repercussions would be severe for the many vulnerable rural communities and regional economies that depend on a strong sugar law.