Farm Bill

One year ago, Hurricane Maria swept over Puerto Rico, bringing 150 mph winds. Nearly 3,000 people died, homes and buildings were ruined and farms were destroyed all over the U.S. territory.

According to Luis Pinto, a farmer near Yabucoa, southeast of the capital San Juan, the sound of the wind screaming through the trees “felt like the hurricane was crying.” Plantain trees were flattened on Pinto’s farm. In all, the storms caused $300,000 in damage to his crops, cattle, fences and roads.

The House of Representatives passed its newest version of the farm bill this week. It includes stricter work requirements for people who get food stamps.

The House did not pass its version of a farm bill last month, but the Senate may have a better shot this week when they consider the Agriculture Improvement Act of 2018.

Rural Groups Push Against Proposed Cuts To USDA Spending

Mar 16, 2017
Adam Fagen / Flickr

Farm and rural advocacy groups say cuts to the U.S. Department of Agriculture in President Donald Trump’s proposed budget would harm rural communities, at a time when many of them need an infusion of cash.

In what’s being called a “skinny budget” because it sets an outline and contains scant details, Trump’s proposal calls for a 21 percent reduction in the USDA’s annual discretionary spending, and lays out rationales for why some programs are either eliminated or scaled back, calling some “duplicative,” or “underperforming.”

Amy Mayer / Harvest Public Media

President Donald Trump has nominated former Georgia Gov. Sonny Perdue as Agriculture Secretary, bucking a recent trend of Midwest leadership at the U.S. Department of Agriculture and making many in the farm country of the Midwest and Great Plans a little leery.

Coupled with the appointments of leaders from Oklahoma and Texas to head the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Department of Energy, respectively, there looks to be a shift in the power center of the parts of the federal government that most directly impact agriculture.

U.S. Embassy in Uruguay / Flickr

President-elect Donald Trump plans to pick former Georgia Gov. Sonny Perdue to lead the Agriculture Department, a transition official and a source close to the process confirmed to NPR.

Trump is expected to make a formal announcement on Thursday, ending a months-long process that left Agriculture Secretary as the final Cabinet post to be filled.

The reported front-runner for weeks, Perdue was a member of Trump’s Agricultural Advisory Committee during the general election campaign. If nominated and confirmed, he will take charge of the USDA, an agency with nearly 100,000 employees and a $150 billion budget.

Luke Runyon / KUNC/Harvest Public Media

Colorado agriculture officials are taking steps to make industrial hemp -- marijuana’s agrarian cousin  -- more mainstream. They’ve certified three hemp seed varieties, becoming the first state in the country to do so.

A seed certification is akin to a stamp of approval, letting farmers know the plant performs well in Colorado’s soil and climate.

The certification also ensures that farmers won’t break federal law by cultivating plants above the legal threshold for THC, the psychoactive compound found in cannabis. Hemp that tests above a concentration of 0.3 percent THC must be destroyed, according to state rules. That threshold was set in the 2014 Farm Bill.

Luke Runyon / KUNC, Harvest Public Media

Update 2.16.2016: The USDA has reversed its decision on certifying organic hemp, our original story continues below.

Colorado is now home to some of the nation’s first certified organic cannabis, which comes with a blessing from federal regulators. CBDRx, a Longmont, Colorado cannabis farm, has secured a certification to market its products with the organic seal from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, a major coup for the plant’s enthusiasts.

“As long as the industrial hemp is grown according to the Farm Bill, it can be certified organic to the USDA National Organic Program,” wrote Penelope Zuck, the agency’s organic program accreditation manager, in an email correspondence obtained by KUNC.

Catch that? We’re talking about hemp here, which is still considered cannabis under federal law. The distinction, and USDA’s decision to certify it, throw the plant into an even larger legal gray area.

Hemp Seed On Its Way To Colorado, With A Federal Blessing

May 11, 2015
Edward the Bonobo / Flickr

Following months of wrangling, the Colorado Department of Agriculture has secured a permit from federal drug enforcement officials to import industrial hemp seed from foreign countries.

The seeds are essential to kick-start Colorado’s hemp industry, which state agriculture officials say has seen a bottleneck in research and cultivation due to a lack of viable seed stocks

To Close Subsidy Loophole, USDA Wants To Redefine ‘Farmer’

Apr 14, 2015
Abby Wendle / Harvest Public Media

Big farms are collecting taxpayer dollars that they haven’t necessarily earned by taking advantage of a loophole in government subsidy rules, according to regulators, members of Congress and the U.S. Government Accountability Office.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture is taking aim at what is known as the “actively engaged” loophole, which has been gaping for nearly three decades, by changing the qualifications for some subsidy payments. But many watchdog groups say a proposed fix fails to address the problem.

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