By Christine Haughney | 10/11/2017 10:00 AM EDT
With Sabrina Rodriguez, Alex Guillén, Jenny Hopkinson and Helena Bottemiller Evich.
A PAINFUL RECKONING IN WINE COUNTRY: Stronger winds in the forecast for Northern California promised additional aid to wildfires that have already claimed 15 lives and forced the evacuation of 20,000 residents. Wine producers no longer in harm's way were beginning the daunting process of estimating their losses - a painful reckoning that producers in other parts of the West and in states like Florida and Texas have undertaken in weeks past, albeit sometimes for different reasons. As of Tuesday evening, about a dozen wineries had suffered damages, said Nancy Light, a spokeswoman for the Wine Institute , which represents more than 1,000 California wineries and related businesses.
More woes ahead? Some 90 percent of the harvest has been picked, USDA Meteorologist Brad Rippey told the agency's radio broadcast, but unpicked grapes are in danger of being rendered useless. "If we get too much smoke and ash, that can also cause problems for the quality of the grapes or the wine grapes," Rippey said.
Jobs and revenue threatened: The wine industry's impact on California's economy is not to be taken lightly. Wine is one of the state's top three agricultural products in terms of value, Light said, and Napa and Sonoma counties, where the fires have been burning, are home to about 1,100 of the state's 4,700 wineries. Dave Bratton, founder of Destination Analysts, a San Francisco-based research company, estimated that Napa's tourism industry employs 13,400 people and generates $80.3 million in tax revenue. Napa's wine industry brings in more than $50 billion annually to the U.S. economy, Napa Valley Vintners estimated in 2012. And in Sonoma County, winemakers and winegrowers contribute $13 billion to the local economy, Sonoma County Winegrowers estimated, and tourism, local authorities said, creates 20,410 jobs and annual spending of $1.93 billion.
Some help from Washington: President Donald Trump ordered Tuesday that federal funding be made available to help supplement state and local recovery efforts in affected areas. Trump spoke to California Gov. Jerry Brown on Monday night "to let him know that the federal government will stand with the people of California" and will support them "in this time of terrible tragedy and need," the president said at a White House event on Tuesday. Vice President Mike Pence, who attended a wildfire briefing at the Sacramento Office of Emergency Services on Tuesday, said that "more assets are on the way" - likely a reference to the $576 million in wildfire suppression costs the White House asked Congress for in its latest disaster aid package.
HAPPY WEDNESDAY, OCT. 11! Welcome to Morning Ag, where your host is grooving to Farmer Derek's YouTube video on the perils of farming while staring at his phone instead of tending to his Kansas farm. I welcome all thoughts, scoops, tips, feedback, birthday shout-outs and wedding announcements! Send them to firstname.lastname@example.org or @chaughney. Follow the whole team at @Morning_Ag.
FLORIDA AG LOOKS TO CONGRESS FOR DISASTER RELIEF: Florida Gov. Rick Scott and Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam will be on Capitol Hill today to meet with members of the state's congressional delegation, to bolster a push for appropriators to include in any disaster relief package more resources and authorities for USDA to help Sunshine State farmers recover from Hurricane Irma. Getting funding now is crucial, officials say, in order to help farmers rebuild quickly.
Feeling the squeeze: Of particular concern is Florida citrus, which suffered $760 million out of $2.5 billion in total damages to agriculture in the state. Many groves were ready to be harvested when the storm came through, knocking fruit off trees, and, in many cases, inundating groves in floodwater. The Florida Fruit and Vegetable Association predicts that between 30 and 70 percent of the harvest was lost due to Irma - which could be a crippling hit when considered in tandem with the decade of damage from citrus greening disease. A group of Florida's congressmen made that point in a letter to USDA late last week, urging Secretary Sonny Perdue to make the case to appropriators for more funding.
"As we work together to adequately respond to this disaster, please know that if the federal government doesn't do something immediately - Florida orange juice as we know it could cease to exist," wrote the lawmakers, led by GOP Rep. Tom Rooney. Pros, read the full story from Pro Ag's Jenny Hopkinson here.
THE WOTUS WITH THE MOSTEST: The Supreme Court today will take up a wonky but important question central to federal water law - should challenges to the Obama administration's Waters of the U.S. rule go through a district court first or proceed straight to an appellate venue? The Trump administration is working to repeal WOTUS in the coming months and says it will issue a rewritten version early next year. But the venue question is all but guaranteed to be applicable again, meaning SCOTUS guidance could prove useful.
What you need to know: The Clean Water Act says most CWA regulations and actions should be challenged first at the district level, but it lists seven exceptions that would go straight to a circuit court. Two are in play here: one regarding rules affecting effluent limitation guidelines, and one for any action approving or denying discharge permits. The Trump administration argues both exceptions apply, and the suits should go to a circuit court first. Various challengers, led by the National Association of Manufacturers, want it to go through district courts first.
History brief: After the rule was released, lawsuits were filed in district and circuit courts throughout the country. After district-level proceedings led to a stay of WOTUS in 13 states only, the circuit-level cases were consolidated into one mega-case before the 6th Circuit, which issued a nationwide injunction. The 6th Circuit then issued a complicated 1-1-1 ruling that concluded it should indeed hear the challenge first. One judge said both exceptions apply, one said only one exception applies, and the third said neither applies and that the challenges should first go through district courts.
Why it matters: This isn't entirely an esoteric spat. Supporters of district-first litigation argue the CWA gives more time to challenge regulations that go to lower courts first. It also means challengers can pick the district court they want to sue in, whereas circuit-first challenges would be randomly consolidated. Meanwhile, those who want circuit-first review argue it provides more certainty and helps avoid patchwork problems - such as the 13-state WOTUS freeze.
From WOTUS to the farm bill: On Tuesday the American Water Works Association urged lawmakers to include better protections for drinking water sources in the conservation title of the next farm bill following high-profile reports of contamination from runoff and other farm chemicals. Pros, more on that here.
COULD PRAIRIE STRIPS GO COMMERCIAL? Last week, MA told you about a newly released study that showed the success researchers at Iowa State University have found in introducing prairie strips onto a wildlife refuge to improve biodiversity. Now in the study's second phase, commercial farmers are also embracing prairie strips.
Lisa Schulte-Moore, an Iowa State University professor and the study's lead author, noted that in the second phase, 15 commercial corn and soybean farms are using prairie strips and allowing researchers to study them. She said another 38 farms through Iowa, Missouri, Wisconsin, Michigan and Illinois have also adopted prairie strips. What's the feedback from farmers? "They're really excited about it and passionate to share the mission," she said, noting that just a few years ago many would have spurned the idea.
Good news, bad news in ag research: A host of recently published studies have brought farmers a mix of joy and despair. Start with the good news: a University of Minnesota study has come up with ways to cut through the controversy involving gene editing biotechnologies and allow them to be used in a way that's acceptable to all viewpoints. What's the answer: researchers say introducing Cooperative Governance Networks should help mediate these battles.
In more hopeful news for our land, Stanford University researchers have published two papers showing that soil may be a savior in the fight against global warming. That's because it retains carbon dioxide much more than previously thought. "Dirt is not exciting to most people," wrote Earth system science professor Rob Jackson, who worked on both papers. "But it is a no-risk climate solution with big co-benefits."
Sadly, there was more discouraging news about bees. Nature published a study late last week showing that bees on every continent except Antarctica face significant exposure to neonicotinoid pesticides, which some studies have shown hurt bees' health. Researchers who tested honey from nearly 200 sites worldwide found that 75 percent of samples contained some level of the neonicotinoid pesticide. Another 45 percent of samples contained two or more types of neonicotinoid pesticide.
- Zinke travel news: Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke has attended at least two additional political fundraisers while traveling for official business, including a weekend ski getaway less than three weeks after he was sworn in where donors paid up to $3,000 to attend, Pro Energy's Esther Whieldon and Ben Lefebvre report.
- Conaway: dairy challenges lie ahead in NAFTA: House Agriculture Chairman Mike Conaway told reporters Tuesday that he viewed his trip to Ottawa over the weekend - aimed at impressing a sense of urgency on Canada to engage on dairy and other agricultural trade issues within the NAFTA talks - as "mission accomplished." Conaway has long called on Canada to come to the negotiating table and expand market access for U.S. dairy, though he added that local support for the country's supply management system could present U.S. negotiators with a challenge. Pros, more here.
- Scott Gottlieb says he wants to stay put: The FDA commissioner, floated as a replacement for former HHS Secretary Tom Price, told Reuters he has no plans to move, but declined to say whether he's spoken with the White House about the job.
- Perdue's off to Europe: First stop, London. A G-7 ministerial in Italy is also calling. And he'll take part in a World Food Day event with Pope Francis on Monday. Rundown here.
- Urban School Food Alliance expands: The Urban School Food Alliance, a coalition of the largest school districts in the country, including New York City, Los Angeles and Dallas, has expanded to three more districts: The Clark County School District in Las Vegas, The School District of Philadelphia and Baltimore City Public Schools. The alliance drives purchasing of antibiotic-free meats and environmentally friendly packaging. The new members expand its reach to more than 3.6 million children. Its total annual purchasing power is now $735 million in the food space, according to the group.
- Dicamba woes spread to oaks: Midwestern and Southern states are getting a slew of complaints about tree damage from dicamba drift. The Midwest Center for Investigative Reporting has the details here.
- Chubby hubby, take two: Ben & Jerry's will remove all glyphosate-tainted ingredients from its production chain and launch an organic dairy line next year after widespread traces of the weedkiller were found in its European offerings, the Guardian reported.
- Last stand for Cook County soda tax: The Cook County, Ill., Board of Commissioners' finance committee on Tuesday passed an ordinance to repeal the tax by a 15-1 vote. The full board is set to consider the repeal measure today. Opponents of the tax say they have a veto-proof majority.
- USDA suspends CRP enrollment: New offers for enrollment in the Conservation Reserve Program will not be accepted until later in the 2018 fiscal year to avoid exceeding the program's 24-million-acre cap, per a release.
- Grassroots push in free-trade fight: Former U.S. senators Max Baucus and Richard Lugar have teamed with the American Farm Bureau Federation to form a new group, Farmers for Free Trade, that will seek to mobilize farmers nationwide as a force for supporting existing and future trade deals. More for Pros here.
THAT'S ALL FOR MA! See you again soon! In the meantime, drop your host and the rest of the team a line: email@example.com and @ceboudreau; firstname.lastname@example.org and @jennyhops; email@example.com and @hbottemiller; firstname.lastname@example.org and @chaughney; email@example.com and @jmlauinger; and firstname.lastname@example.org and @pjoshiny. You can also follow @POLITICOPro and @Morning_Ag on Twitter.
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