Michigan Senate Votes to Delay Cage-Free Ban for Hens

Associated Press writer David Eggert reported last week that, “A divided Michigan Senate on Thursday passed an update of the state’s animal industry law, including a proposed delay of a requirement that chickens and pigs be given more room in their cages and stalls.

“Much of the seven-bill package won unanimous support, but senators split over giving dairy farms more time to implement enclosure standards for egg-laying hens that take effect this month under a 2009 law. Farmers would not have to comply until October 2025 for hens and next April for pregnant pigs under one of the measures that was sent to the House for consideration.

“Business owners could not knowingly sell an egg that came from a farm with 3,000 or more egg-laying hens if they knew or should have known that the egg was produced by a hen that was confined in violation of standards. The state could go to court to stop violators, though they would not face criminal penalties.”

The AP article noted that, “The farm animal confinement rules were enacted in 2009 as part of a compromise in which the Humane Society of the United States agreed to no longer push a ballot initiative.

“The Michigan Allied Poultry Industries said farmers are spending millions of dollars to transition to cage-free hen houses. About 8.5 million, or 56%, of hens currently live cage-free. An additional 1 million, or 6%, will be cage-free by the end of 2020, according to the group.”

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Senate Passes Bipartisan Bill to Protect America’s Domestic Food Supply and Agricultural Industries

A news release today from the U.S. Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Government Affairs stated that, “Today, the U.S. Senate unanimously approved bipartisan legislation introduced by U.S. Senators Gary Peters (D-MI), Pat Roberts (R-KS), Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) and John Cornyn (R-TX) to address the shortage of agricultural inspectors who protect the nation’s food supply and agricultural industries at the border. The Protecting America’s Food & Agriculture Act of 2019 would ensure the safe and secure trade of agricultural goods across our nation’s borders by authorizing U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) to hire additional inspectors, support staff and canine teams to fully staff America’s airports, seaports and land ports of entry.

“Peters serves as the Ranking Member of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, and Roberts and Stabenow are Chairman and Ranking Member of the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry, respectively.

“‘Agriculture is a critical economic driver in Michigan and across the country, but longstanding shortages of agricultural inspectors limits Customs and Border Protection’s ability to prevent pests, diseases and other dangers from entering our country and puts production at risk,’ said Senator Peters. ‘Every day, millions of passengers and tens of thousands of shipping containers carrying food products cross our nation’s borders, any one of which could do significant damage to America’s food supply and agricultural industries. I’m pleased the Senate unanimously approved my bipartisan bill to fill this unacceptable security gap, and I look forward to its swift consideration in the House of Representatives.'”

Today’s update added that, “The USDA and CBP work together to facilitate the safe and secure entry of agricultural goods into the U.S. The program’s Agricultural Specialists and canine units conduct inspections of passengers, commercial vessels, trucks, aircraft and railcars at U.S. ports of entry to protect health and safety by preventing the entry of harmful goods and invasive species that may pose a threat to American food and agriculture. On a typical day, those inspectors process more than 1 million passengers and 78,000 truck, rail and sea containers carrying goods worth approximately $7.2 billion. According to CBP estimates, there is a shortage of nearly 700 inspectors across the country.

The Protecting America’s Food & Agriculture Act of 2019 authorizes the annual hiring of 240 Agricultural Specialists a year until the workforce shortage is filled, and 200 Agricultural Technicians a year to carry out administrative and support functions. The bill also authorizes the training and assignment of 20 new canine teams a year, which have proven valuable in detecting illicit fruits, vegetables and animal products that may have otherwise been missed in initial inspections. Finally, the bill authorizes supplemental appropriations each year to pay for the activities of the agriculture specialists, technicians and canine teams.”

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House Passes Animal Cruelty Measure

Washington Post writer Hannah Knowles reported yesterday that, “Many acts of animal cruelty are closer to becoming federal felonies after the House’s unanimous passage Tuesday of the Preventing Animal Cruelty and Torture Act.

“If passed by the Senate and enacted, the bill will outlaw purposeful crushing, burning, drowning, suffocation, impalement or other violence causing ‘serious bodily injury’ to animals. Violations could result in a fine as well as up to seven years’ imprisonment.

“Advocates say the PACT Act would fill crucial gaps in national law, which only bans animal fighting as well as the making and sharing of videos that show the kind of abuse the PACT Act would criminalize. All states have provisions against animal cruelty, said Kitty Block, president of the Humane Society of the United States, but without a federal ban, it’s hard to prosecute cases that span different jurisdictions or that occur in airports, military bases and other places under federal purview.”

The Post article noted that, “The Senate has passed a companion bill to the PACT Act twice, making supporters optimistic that with the House version passed, the measure can sail into law. Advocates point to opposition from recently retired congressman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.), a former House Judiciary Committee chairman, as blocking previous attempts to pass the bill in the House. The Post was unable to reach Goodlatte on Wednesday.

“The Senate now needs to vote again on its version of the bill, which lists 38 sponsors. Jason Attermann, a spokesman for Deutch, told The Post that PACT Act backers do not anticipate any hang-ups.”

Ms. Knowles added that, “The legislation outlines exemptions for humane euthanasia; slaughter for food; recreational activities such as hunting, trapping and fishing; medical and scientific research; ‘normal veterinary, agricultural husbandry, or other animal management practice‘; and actions that are necessary ‘to protect the life or property of a person.'”

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USDA Extends Deadline for Producers to Enroll in Conservation Stewardship Program Grassland Conservation Initiative

A news release today from USDA’s Farm Service Agency (FSA) stated that, “USDA is extending the deadline to November 8, 2019, for eligible agriculture producers to enroll in the Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP) Grassland Conservation Initiative, which was created by the 2018 Farm Bill. The original deadline was October 25, 2019.  This program is available to producers with base acreage that has been in grass or grasslands over a nine-year period, rather than planted with commodity crops.

“Eligible producers received letters from [FSA] earlier this year, which included information on how to apply through field offices of USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS). 

“When enrolling in the CSP Grassland Conservation Initiative, producers must meet or exceed the stewardship threshold for one priority resource concern by the end of their five-year contract. Producers receive $18 per acre per year for the next five years.”

Today’s update added that, “This initiative has different rules than the rest of CSP and is administered separately. Eligible producers who apply are accepted into the initiative. There is no ranking period, and CSP payment limitations do not apply.

“Eligible operations have base acres, which are lands where producers have historically grown commodity crops, where crops have not been grown from January 1, 2009, through December 31, 2017, and the land has returned to grass or grasslands. Formerly, these producers would have been available for assistance through the Agriculture Risk Coverage and Price Loss Coverage programs administered by FSA. Now, this assistance is made available through the CSP Grassland Conservation Initiative.”

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Lawmakers Introduce the Livestock Risk Management and Education Act

A news release yesterday from Rep. Dusty Johnson (R., S.D.) stated that, “Today U.S. Representatives [Johnson], Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.), and Frank Lucas (R-Okla.), introduced the Livestock Risk Management and Education Act, a bill that would provide grants to certain state land-grant universities to better equip livestock producers with risk management training.

“The Livestock Risk Management and Education Act would authorize the National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) to provide resources to improve livestock producers’ knowledge of futures markets to better manage market volatility. An understanding of futures contracts and risk management strategies will allow producers both large and small to better anticipate cattle prices. This new authority would allow land-grant universities, such as South Dakota State University, to partner with grower associations to more directly reach producers.

“‘Producers already face an uphill battle of unpredictable weather, understanding cattle prices doesn’t need to be an added challenge,’ said Rep. Johnson. ‘The Livestock Risk Management and Education Act will supply producers with the tools needed to anticipate highs and lows in the futures markets. I’m proud to partner with my colleagues from cattle country to help best prepare our Ag economy and producers for the future.'”

Yesterday’s update added that, “‘Livestock producers across the country have faced years of uncertainty and, like others, need every tool within their belt to manage risk and sharpen their ability to weather the market’s uncertainty. I’m proud to join [Rep. Johnson] and [Rep. Cheney] as a cosponsor of the Livestock Risk Management and Education Act, ensuring that our livestock producers have the resources they need to better utilize risk management strategies as they overcome market volatility. Our producers rise to the challenge day in and day out and the Livestock Risk Management and Education Act would help provide stability for those that feed billions across the globe,’ said Rep. Frank Lucas.”

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Estate Taxes Still Impact States

Eduardo Porter reported in today’s New York Times that, “Arkansas reaped a windfall when a Walmart founder, James L. Walton, known as Bud, died in 1995 with a fortune estimated by Forbes at $1.65 billion in today’s money. The next year, state estate tax receipts jumped 425 percent, to about $183 million in current dollars.

“In an age when bigger fortunes are being made, the states’ prize is getting richer. Research by Enrico Moretti of the University of California, Berkeley, and Daniel J. Wilson of the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco estimates that if Jeff Bezos of Amazon died today at his home in the Seattle suburbs, the state tax bill on his estate, estimated by Forbes at more than $100 billion, would add up to almost $12 billion. Washington State’s entire budget for two years is $52 billion.

There’s a hitch to state estate taxes: The rich can move to avoid their reach. That makes counting on the revenues a bit of a crapshoot. If an aging Mr. Bezos moved before he died, establishing his residence in California, his fortune would produce no estate tax revenue.”

“Estate Taxes Are Easy to Flee, but They Still Help States,” by Eduardo Porter. The New York Times (October 21, 2019).

The article noted that, “And yet the payoff from estate taxes can be so big that it’s worthwhile for states to impose them anyway.”

Mr. Porter explained that, “The older the wealthy get, the less likely they are to continue to live in states that charge estate taxes. Mr. Moretti and Mr. Wilson estimate that from 2001 to 2017, a 40-year-old billionaire on the Forbes list had a 22 percent chance of living in a state with an estate tax. By age 70, the odds were only 14 percent. By age 90, they had fallen to only 9 percent.

“But over the long run, Mr. Moretti and Mr. Wilson conclude, the state estate tax can be a useful tool. From 1982 to 2017, the death of the average Forbes billionaire generated $165 million in revenue in states with estate taxes. Lots of billionaires moved to avoid them. But estate taxes raised more money for states that had them than they lost in income-tax revenue when billionaires left.”

The New York Times article added that, “Currently, federal estate and gift taxes apply beyond a threshold of $11.4 million per person. They are levied at a top rate of 40 percent and raised $23 billion in 2018.

“Unlike the issues with state taxes, the rich can’t move out of the country to avoid federal estate taxes because United States citizens are liable for the tax no matter where they live.”

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Agriculture Fund Investing– Options Varied as the Crops in the Fields

Tim Gray reported earlier this month at The New York Times Online that, “Two realities undergird the investment case for agriculture: The world’s population keeps swelling and everyone must eat.

“A third reality — climate change — will make satisfying those billions of appetites harder and companies that can help farmers potentially more valuable.

Agriculture isn’t a standard investment sector in the way that, say, financial stocks are, and definitions of it vary, including things ranging from the obvious, like the American equipment-maker Deere & Company, to the offbeat, like Leroy Seafood, the Norwegian fish farmer.”

The article noted that, “‘When we talk about agribusiness, we’re talking about everything from producers of agricultural goods and agrochemicals to fertilizer, animal health, seeds and farm equipment,’ said Brandon Rakszawski, VanEck’s director of product development for exchange-traded funds. The VanEck Vectors AgribusinessExchange-Traded Fund is the largest agricultural index fund, and it returned an annual average of 7.3 percent for the 10 years that ended in September.”

Mr. Gray explained that, “For investors who take a long-term view, options for investing in agriculture are nearly as varied as the crops in the fields.

“They range from actively managed mutual funds that put a portion of their shareholders’ money into agriculture and related sectors — no actively managed fund tracked by Morningstar invests exclusively in agriculture — to E.T.F.s that invest in either agribusiness stocks, commodities futures contracts or real estate investment trusts that buy farmland.”

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Bayer Expects Number of U.S. Roundup Claims to Increase

Reuters News reported yesterday that, “Bayer expects the number of claims in the United States related to Roundup herbicide to have surged in the third quarter, as the German drugs and pesticides maker tries to reach a settlement after earlier court rulings against it.

“‘With the substantial increase in plaintiff advertising this year, we expect to see a significant surge in the number of plaintiff filings over the third quarter,’ the company said in a written statement.

“Bayer, which acquired Roundup and other glyphosate-based weed killers as part of its $63 billion takeover of Monsanto last year, faces potentially heavy litigation costs as plaintiffs claim Roundup causes cancer, something Bayer disputes.”

The Reuters article noted that, “The drugmaker said in July that the number of U.S. plaintiffs in the litigation had risen to 18,400 and it is due to provide an update on Oct. 30, along with quarterly earnings.

“Analysts at JP Morgan, citing an analysis of Missouri court data, said in an Oct. 9 research note that the total number of glyphosate cases could rise to more than 45,000.

“However, several lawsuits have been delayed recently as mediator Ken Feinberg tries to negotiate a settlement.”

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USDA Opens 2020 Enrollment for Agriculture Risk Coverage and Price Loss Coverage Programs

A news release yesterday from USDA’s Farm Service Agency (FSA) stated that, “Agricultural producers now can enroll in the Agriculture Risk Coverage (ARC) and Price Loss Coverage (PLC) programs – two U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) safety net programs – for the 2020 crop year. Meanwhile, producers who enrolled farms for the 2018 crop year have started receiving more than $1.5 billion for covered commodities for which payments were triggered under such programs.

“‘These two programs provide income support to help producers manage the ups and downs in revenues and prices,’ said Richard Fordyce, Administrator of USDA’s FSA. ‘USDA is here to support the economic stability of American agricultural producers by helping them maintain their competitive edge in times of economic stress. We encourage producers to consider enrolling in one of these programs.’

“ARC provides income support payments on historical base acres when actual crop revenue declines below a specified guaranteed level. PLC provides income support payments on historical base acres when the effective price for a covered commodity falls below its reference price. The 2018 Farm Bill reauthorized and updated both programs.”

The FSA update added that, “Signup for the 2020 crop year closes June 30, 2020, while signup for the 2019 crop year closes March 15, 2020. Producers who have not yet enrolled for 2019 can enroll for both 2019 and 2020 during the same visit to an FSA county office.”

“For more information on ARC and PLC including two online decision tools that assist producers in making enrollment and election decisions specific to their operations, visit the ARC and PLC webpage.

“For additional questions and assistance, contact your local USDA service center. To locate your local FSA office, visit farmers.gov/service-locator.”

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Chicago Lawmakers Pushing For Tighter Regulation for Backyard Chickens

Alexia Elejalde-Ruiz reported on the front page of today’s Chicago Tribune that, “An ordinance introduced last month would ban roosters from residential areas in Chicago and allow a household to keep no more than six hens and two livestock animals, defined as four-legged farm creatures such as pigs, sheep and goats.

“A $25 annual livestock permit from the city’s Health Department would be required of each household keeping farm animals, and only single-family homes and two-flats would be eligible. Applicants would have to inform all neighbors within 500 feet of their plans, and a permit would be rejected if a majority objects.

“Ald. Raymond Lopez, 15th, who co-sponsored the ordinance with Ald. Anthony Napolitano, 41st, said the proposed law is a response to the ‘growing presence’ of livestock in city neighborhoods.”

The Tribune article noted that, “Lawmakers in 2007 tried to ban chickens from Chicago’s residential areas, citing concerns about stench and rodents, but chicken lovers across the city mobilized to defeat the proposal. Meanwhile, other municipalities responded to the rising interest in urban farming by loosening restrictions. Evanston in 2010 lifted its chicken ban to allow up to six hens but no roosters.

“The pro-chicken lobby in Chicago is rallying again, arguing that the city’s general animal welfare and noise and nuisance laws, which include a ban on cockfighting and fines for excessive noise, already address issues that might arise.”

Today’s article added that, “Rather than limit urban agriculture, Lopez said he wants the ordinance to be ‘viewed as a catalyst for a broader conversation on the future growth and sustainability of urban agriculture as a positive growth industry in the city — an industry that needs more than variances and special use privileges from bureaucrats within City Hall.’

“The proposed caps on hens and livestock were based on how much room the animals would need for proper care when the average city lot is 25 by 125 square feet, Lopez said.

In addition to regulating backyard livestock, the ordinance would require an urban farm license for spaces used for the commercial production of produce, eggs, milk and dairy products.”

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