October 7, 2015

Give a Hand to Honey Bees

The U.S. Department of Agriculture Tuesday announced the availability of $4 million in assistance for farmers, ranchers and forest landowners working to improve food sources for honey bees on private lands in Midwestern and northern plains states. The targeted conservation effort by USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service aims to improve the health of this critical pollinator in a region where more than two-thirds of the nation’s honey bee population spends the summer months, pollinating crops and building strength to survive winter.

“The future of our food supply depends on honey bees,” NRCS Chief Jason Weller said. “This effort partners with farmers, ranchers and forest landowners to ensure honey bees have safe and diverse food sources during a time when they need it most.”

Honey bees pollinate an estimated $15 billion worth of crops annually, including more than 130 fruits and vegetables. One out of every three bites of food in the United States depends on honey bees and other pollinators. But honey bee populations have suffered significant declines in recent years.

NRCS is working with landowners in Michigan, Minnesota, Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota and Wisconsin to make bee-friendly conservation improvements to their land, such as planting cover crops, wildflowers or native grasses and improving management of grazing lands. From June to September this six-state region is home to more than 70 percent of the commercially managed honey bees in the country. These are critical months when bee colonies need abundant and diverse forage to store enough food for winter.

During the first two years of this targeted campaign, NRCS and landowners have boosted available food for honey bees on around 35,000 acres in Michigan, Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota and Wisconsin. NRCS expanded the effort into Montana this year because of the state’s prominent role in honey production.

Planting wildflowers, native grasses and cover crops like buckwheat, mustard, clover and sunflowers provides high value food for honey bees. Cover crops also increase soil nutrients, break pest cycles and increase organic matter in the soil. NRCS also works with landowners to ensure pasturelands and rangelands include a good variety of legumes, forbs and shrubs that also provide pollen and nectar.
The 2014 Farm Bill’s Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) program provides funding for this work. NRCS accepts EQIP applications on a continuous basis. Landowners interested in participating should contact their local USDA service center to learn more.


Reaction on Trans-Pacific Partnership

The National Pork Producers Council expressed confidence that the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) agreement negotiators concluded in Atlanta will benefit all sectors of the U.S. economy and will provide enormous new market opportunities for high-quality American pork products.

The TPP, initiated in late 2008, is a regional trade deal that includes the United States, Australia, Brunei Darussalam, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore and Vietnam, which account for nearly 40 percent of global GDP.

“NPPC played an active role throughout the five-plus years of negotiations,” said association President Dr. Ron Prestage, “providing U.S. negotiators with key information on barriers we face in the 11 other TPP countries and offering guidance on outcomes that would ensure substantial new market access benefits for U.S. pork in those markets.”

Iowa State University economist Dermot Hayes, who said a final TPP agreement could be “the most important commercial opportunity ever for U.S. pork producers,” estimated that a good outcome for pork in the trade pact could increase U.S. pork exports over time exponentially and help create more than 10,000 U.S. jobs tied to those exports. Last year, the U.S. pork industry shipped about $4.5 billion of products to the 11 TPP nations.

U.S. trade analysts concluded that a TPP agreement that achieves the goals set by Congress and the Obama administration should help level the playing field for U.S. exports in a region that is the fastest growing in the world but where tariff and non-tariff barriers on U.S. goods are significant. It also should ensure that U.S. products are competitive in the region vis-à-vis products from non-TPP countries.

Past U.S. free trade agreements (FTAs), which have substantially reduced or eliminated trade barriers, demonstrate the importance to the U.S. pork industry of opening foreign markets, Prestage pointed out. Those deals have increased U.S. pork exports by 1,550 percent in value and 1,268 percent in volume since 1989 – the year the United States began using bilateral and regional trade agreements to open foreign markets – and now are valued at nearly $6.7 billion.

Last year, exports represented more than a quarter of total U.S. pork production and added more than $62 to the price pork producers received for each hog marketed. They also helped generate an estimated 110,000 pork-related U.S. jobs. The United States now exports more pork to its 20 FTA partners than to the rest of the world combined.

“We look forward to reviewing the full text of the TPP agreement and the schedules of market access concessions as soon as possible,” said Prestage, a veterinarian and pork producer from Camden, S.C. “We are reserving final judgment on the package until then.”

While the recently concluded agreement should be a boon to U.S. exporters to the region, the TPP has the potential to provide even greater trade benefits if and when it is opened to additional countries, such as The Philippines, South Korea, Taiwan and Thailand, all of which have expressed interest in joining the Pacific Rim trade bloc.


The National Milk Producers Federation and the U.S. Dairy Export Council noted the conclusion today of Trans-Pacific Partnership negotiations and thanked the U.S. negotiators for their work. NMPF and USDEC leadership and staff have attended the talks in Atlanta, which kicked off with a chief negotiators meeting on September 26 before shifting into a Ministerial on September 30. Both organizations have been providing input and guidance to negotiators throughout the duration of the regional trade pact.

The organizations expressed deep appreciation to the numerous members of Congress who have conveyed the importance of a successful dairy market access outcome during the years of negotiation, but in particular, during the closing negotiations.


Evolution of GMO Dialogue

After the recent detection of unregulated genetically engineered wheat outside of permitted fields, USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service is seeking public comments on a new permitting process to strengthen oversight for field tests before volunteer plants can become established or spread.

Genetically engineered wheat plants were detected in unauthorized fields in Oregon and Montana in 2013 and 2014.

The wheat discovered in Montana was believed to be volunteer plants from a previous field trial, while the source of the genetically engineered wheat plants in Oregon hasn’t been determined.

Speaking Monday at a meeting of the International Association of Ag Production Insurers in Kansas City, Missouri, Ag Secretary Tom Vilsack touched on the topic of genetically modified crops during a question and answer session with attendees…


So now, Vilsack says the question has become – what do consumers need to know, and how should they get that information?


The debate over the safety of GMOs heated up in March when the World Health Organization’s cancer research unit classified glyphosate as a “probable” carcinogen for humans.

Regulators in California, one of the largest U.S. farming states, said they are moving to list glyphosate as potentially cancer-causing. The California Environmental Protection Agency is taking public comments on the move through Oct. 5.