Last week President Obama and USDA Secretary Vilsack visited drought stricken areas in California and announced additional USDA assistance to farmer and local communities impacted by the drought. In his remarks the President said: “Right now, almost 99 percent of California is drier than normal. While drought in regions outside the West is expected to be less severe than in other years, California is our biggest economy, California is our biggest agricultural producer, so what happens here matters to every working American, right down to the cost of food that you put on your table.”
At the President’s direction, USDA is making implementation of disaster programs contained in the Farm Bill a top priority and plans to have the programs available for sign up in 60 days. Producers will be able to sign up for the livestock disaster programs for losses not only for 2014 but for losses they experienced in 2012 and 2013. California could potentially receive up to $100 million for 2014 losses and up to $50 million for previous years.
In addition, the Administration will make $15 million in targeted conservation funding available. Of the $15 million, $5 million in additional assistance will go to California and $10 million will be available in drought-impacted areas in Texas, Oklahoma, Nebraska, Colorado and New Mexico. The funding is available through the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) administered by USDA. The assistance helps farmers and ranchers implement conservation practices that conserve scarce water resources, reduce wind erosion on drought-impacted fields and improve livestock access to water. USDA, through NRCS, had previously announced $20 million in assistance for agricultural conservation enhancements on drought impacted agricultural lands in California.
USDA is also making $3 million in grants available to help rural communities that are experiencing a significant decline in the quality or quantity of drinking water due to the drought obtain or maintain water sources of sufficient quantity and quality. These funds will be provided to eligible, qualified communities by application through USDA-Rural Development’s Emergency Community Water Assistance Grants (ECWAG). California state health officials have already identified 17 small community water districts in 10 counties that are at risk of running out of water in 60-120 days. This number is expected to increase if current conditions persist.
Congressional Research Service Farm Bill Summary
The Congressional Research Service (CRS) is a non-partisan “think tank” housed within the Library of Congress. With nearly 600 analysts it prepares reports on a host of issues for members of Congress. The CRS recently released a summary report of the Farm Bill. If you would like to read the 236 page report click here.
By Bill Garber – Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac failed to fully analyze data from the Uniform Collateral Data Portal and continue to take unnecessary risks when purchasing and guaranteeing single-family residential mortgages, according to a report from the Federal Housing Finance Agency’s Office of the Inspector General, Mortgage Daily reported Feb. 6.
The report indicated that the two government-sponsored enterprises are not taking full advantage of appraisal data collected through the UCDP that the Federal Housing Finance Agency directed the GSEs to use in 2010 in an effort to improve loan quality and risk management.
Mortgage Daily reported that the GSEs purchased and guaranteed six million loans valued at $1.3 trillion in 2012 alone. The UCDP was designed to make it easier for the GSEs to evaluate the large volume of loans that they are being asked to guarantee and purchase. The system notifies sellers if appraisals fail to meet Fannie and Freddie standards.
The OIG report indicated that Fannie and Freddie have failed to take full advantage of the UCDP, noting that 56,000 loans that the GSEs purchased between January and June 2013 showed potential violations of agency standards when run through the UCDP. Another 29,000 loans that the agencies acquired for $6.7 billion had zero property value or value that was questionable.
Mortgage Daily reported that the GSEs allegedly set up automatic overrides to allow sellers to disregard some issues. The suspected overrides also allowed the GSEs to accept 23 appraisals from suspended appraisers on $3.4 million worth of loans.
The OIG offered 14 recommendations to help the GSEs correct the issues, most of them related to increasing FHFA oversight of UCDP use. The OIG also is requiring Fannie and Freddie to resolve issues where loans show key warning messages before proceeding with their purchase.
The FHFA noted it will provide a status report on the changes by Jan. 31, 2015.
GMOs Seek Natural Food Labels
From the Federal Produce Policy News – The Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA) sent a letter to the FDA on December 05, 2013 asking the agency to include foods containing genetically modified ingredients under the label “natural.” Sales under the label “natural” are growing faster than any other category, which has given the label a lot of attention recently. Several organizations against genetically modified organisms (GMOs) have attacked GMA’s request saying that the organization is trying to deceive the public about what is really in their food. GMA argues that there is nothing “synthetic or artificial” about GMOs as the FDA defines those terms. The same issue on whether GMOs should be included under the “natural” label is also being debated in 26 state legislatures. Connecticut has already banned GMO products from using the label “natural” in a bill signed by the governor on December 11, 2013.
To view the letter from GMA, click here: http://www.federalproducepolicy.com/pdfs/gma_letter_to_fda_natural&gmosdec052013.pdf
To view an article from The New York Times on the issue, click here: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/12/20/business/trade-group-seeks-natural-label-on-modified-food.html?_r=0
By Roy C Ferguson II, CMC/CAC - Federal restrictions may be lifted on the use of genetically engineered corn and soybean seeds which resist negative impacts on production yields from applying the popular herbicide 2,4-D. Canadian officials have already approved the process, but sales have not occurred thus far.
Limited use of 2,4-D with corn and soybeans has occurred to date because the chemical is toxic to both plants early in their growth cycles. But, a need reportedly exists because certain types of weeds have apparently become immune to Roundup.
Critics of the new seed development maintain that increased use of 2,4-D will inevitably result in the evolution of weeds which are also resistant to it. The chemical is already the nation’s third most used weedkiller being used today in U.S. agriculture.
A historic problem with 2,4-D has been its reported tendency to drift beyond the areas where it is being sprayed, thus threatening neighbors’ crops and wild plants. Progress is said to have been made with the development of a new version of 2,4-D along with new equipment for applying it.