With help from Liz Crampton
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— The Agriculture Department appears poised to roll out hemp regulations today, which growers and manufacturers hope will sort out the mess of state rules, legal snags and other headaches that have ensued since Congress legalized the crop’s production last year.
— Gaps in federal ag research are coming back to bite pork producers and regulators as they rush to prevent African swine fever from entering the country. The deadly pig disease is decimating hog herds in Asia, and years of budget cuts have hindered U.S. efforts to develop a vaccine.
— The EPA’s dismantling of the Obama administration’s Waters of the U.S. rule has put the Trump administration in an awkward spot: defending an interim framework of water regulations from the 1980s that conservatives and some ag groups consider far too restrictive.
HAPPY TUESDAY, OCT. 29! Welcome to Morning Ag, where we’re interested to hear how businesses are sidestepping President Donald Trump’s tariffs — like this Florida wine company that’s importing truckloads of bulk wine from France and avoiding the new duties on bottles of 2 liters or less. Send tips to [email protected] and @ryanmccrimmon, and follow us @Morning_Ag.
THE HEMP WAITING GAME COMES TO AN END: USDA’s long-awaited hemp rules are expected to be released as soon as today after they were cleared by the White House last week. A patchwork of state laws have governed the emerging industry ever since its legalization under the 2018 farm bill, and industry insiders hope USDA’s regulations will clear up some of the confusion surrounding hemp — especially how to test for the presence of THC, the chemical that gets users high.
What’s in there? The rules are likely to address a range of issues, from THC testing to data collection and inspections. They will mark the first time the federal government has weighed in on regulating hemp. (The FDA and EPA also have guidelines in the mix for pieces of the industry under their jurisdiction.)
Why THC testing is so important: The variability in testing THC in hemp is a major issue for farmers, state regulators and law enforcement. Under the farm bill, plants test “hot” if THC levels rise above 0.3 percent. But states have varying testing standards and methods that can have wildly different implications for farmers.
Most farmers are forced to destroy their hot crops. The industry is hoping for rules that will let it dispose of these plants more productively, like using them for soil amendments or composting. This gets even more complicated in states where hemp production is allowed but marijuana remains illegal.
Testing THC also has implications for interstate commerce. Some hemp transporters have been charged with marijuana trafficking offenses. The industry is hoping for clear protections for interstate commerce so distributors don’t get in trouble, even if they drive through states that have outlawed hemp.
PLAYING CATCH-UP AGAINST AFRICAN SWINE FEVER: In 2004, a team of USDA researchers hunting for an African swine fever vaccine was disbanded for budgetary reasons. The department’s research on ASF didn’t pick back up until 2010. That six-year gap is now posing problems for public and private efforts to stave off the incurable disease from spreading to the U.S., which could devastate the pork industry, POLITICO’s Oma Seddiq writes this a.m.
Experts think scientific challenges are primarily responsible for complicating the development of a vaccine. But the industry has pointed to low levels of federal funding for animal disease research as a real hindrance.
Liz Wagstrom, chief veterinarian at the National Pork Producers Council, said there’s little hope in the industry that a vaccine will be developed in the near future, because of the complexity of the virus — so the sector is largely focusing on prevention. “The vaccine research is probably a much longer-term project,” Wagstrom said.
The U.S. was once the top nation in the world for its share of public funding devoted to agricultural research. But federal funding levels have fallen for years, even as countries like China and Brazil have increased their commitments. Democrats, hoping to reverse the trend, have introduced legislation in both chambers that would increase USDA’s research budget by 5 percent.
IT’S BACK TO THE EIGHTIES AFTER TRUMP’S WOTUS REPEAL: The EPA last week finalized its rollback of the Obama administration’s WOTUS regulations, handing a long-sought victory to farmers, developers and other industries that viewed the sweeping environmental rules as an overreach. But while the Trump administration crafts a replacement, federal regulators are forced to revert to a 1986 policy that gives Washington much broader authority over small creeks and far-flung wetlands, reports Pro Energy’s Annie Snider.
The WOTUS repeal was met with a pair of lawsuits, one from each side of the issue. Environmental groups claimed the EPA failed to justify the new rule or analyze its full impact. And the Pacific Legal Foundation filed a lawsuit on behalf of the New Mexico Cattle Growers’ Association, arguing that putting the 1980s rules back on the book poses the same problems for industries as the original WOTUS rule itself.
Repeal and replace: The EPA is working to finalize a “replacement” rule with a narrow definition of which streams and wetlands are subject to federal regulations. But legal experts predict that second piece of the agency’s effort will get caught in the courts. That means the 33-year-old regulations could remain the law of the land for years to come.
— The Senate adopted two amendments to a fiscal 2020 Agriculture-FDA appropriations measure that would help USDA address heirs’ property issues and direct the department to study challenges facing food distribution programs for people living on American Indian reservations, your host reports. The chamber is on track this week to pass the four-bill minibus containing funding for USDA and FDA, even as other fiscal 2020 spending bills face long odds, Pro Budget’s Caitlin Emma writes.
— Californians are facing major power outages and mass evacuations because of extreme wildfires, a preview of the damage that other regions will soon face because of climate change, predicts former Gov. Jerry Brown. POLITICO California has the story.
— Food and beverage industry groups have sent over 10,000 letters urging Congress to ratify USMCA. It’s part of a campaign organized by the Corn Refiners Association, along with the National Restaurant Association, International Dairy Foods Association and Food Marketing Institute, per POLITICO Influence.
— The Interior Department is backing down on proposed changes to how it processes public records requests, after an outcry that the potential overhaul would reduce the amount of information Interior was required to release under the Freedom of Information Act. Pro Energy’s Ben Lefebvre has the details.
— Senate Armed Services Chairman Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.) said he’ll introduce a “skinny” defense authorization bill that doesn’t include language addressing PFAS chemicals, reports Pro Energy’s Anthony Adragna.
— The House Agriculture Committee will hold a hearing Wednesday on reauthorizing the CFTC. It’s scheduled for 9:30 a.m.