By Jason Huffman | 04/19/2017 10:00 AM EDT

With help from Helena Bottemiller Evich, Annie Snider, Eric Wolff and Anthony Adragna

STUDY SUGGESTS BERKELEY'S SODA TAX IS WORKING: Sugary drink sales dropped nearly 10 percent in the year following the imposition of a soda tax in Berkeley, Calif., according to a new study that garnered worldwide headlines, reigniting the debate about whether soda taxes work.

"Soda tax DOES work in America," blared the U.K.-based Daily Mail. "In Berkeley, Soda Tax Is Doing What It's Supposed To Do," Forbes declared.

"The Berkeley tax is a home run - residents chose healthier options, it raised revenue for promoting health, and we saw no evidence of higher grocery bills for consumers or harm to local business revenue," said lead author Lynn Silver, a researcher at Oakland-based Public Health Institute, which is supportive of soda taxes. "These findings suggest that sugary drink taxes make health and economic sense."

Indeed, the study showed a clear drop in sugary drink sales after the tax, while also finding an increase in sales for bottled water (up roughly 15 percent) and other drinks, like milk. But the American Beverage Association sprang into action Tuesday to cast doubt on the impact of the sin tax. The group pointed out that the study also found Berkeley residents are only consuming 6.4 fewer calories from taxed drinks per person, per day, while calories from untaxed drinks, like milkshakes and yogurt-based smoothies, went up 31 calories per person, per day.

ABA also argued that Berkeley is a bad test case. The liberal enclave has a high median income and wasn't a soda-consumption hotbed to begin with, the group noted. "This study does, however, confirm that sales of taxed beverages inside the city declined while sales of those same beverages outside the city increased, which is also what is happening in Philadelphia," ABA said.

Bay Area boom: Shopping for sugary drinks outside of city limits to avoid the tax will become more difficult starting in July, when similar taxes in neighboring Oakland, San Francisco and Albany, Calif., kick in.

HAPPY WEDNESDAY, APRIL 19! Welcome to Morning Ag, where your host agrees with @LukeRunyon that it matters how the USDA counts female farmers. Thoughts, news, tips? Send them to jhuffman@politico.com or @JsonHuffman. Follow the whole team at @Morning_Ag.

EPA PACING TIGHT FOR RFS DEADLINE: EPA needs to hurry if it wants to make its annual deadline for issuing the Renewable Fuel Standard mandates, Pro Energy's Eric Wolff reports. EPA should publish its first proposed rule by late May in order to have the final 2018 volume mandates for biofuel by the Nov. 30 deadline, based on the six months it usually takes to get this done. But ethanol and oil refining sources say they've been told the proposed rule could slip to early June, which they believe still allows EPA enough time to issue the final rule before the deadline.

"EPA has repeatedly committed to the timely promulgation of the rules implementing the RFS, and I have every expectation they will meet the statutory requirement," said Bob Dinneen, CEO of the Renewable Fuels Association, an ethanol producers group. "Given that gasoline demand has continued to rise and ethanol production has continued to evolve, the 2018 RVO should be a little more than a perfunctory exercise that keeps the program on track." Read Wolff's story here.

ANIMAL WELFARE GROUP WANTS TO STOP USDA PAYMENTS FOR UNSHELTERED ANIMALS: The Humane Farming Association is trying again to get the USDA to stop making payments to farmers and ranchers when their livestock and poultry die as a result of being left unsheltered in bad weather, sending a petition to Sonny Perdue in advance of his confirmation as Agriculture secretary.

Severe storms and heat waves have taken their toll on livestock and poultry in recent years. The winter storm Goliath killed as many as 40,000 dairy cows and calves in western Texas and eastern New Mexico in 2015 and 2016, with winds that pushed animals into fenced corners where they were buried alive in snow drifts as high as 14 feet, HFA says. Coming to the aid of the farmers and ranchers has been the USDA Farm Service Agency's Livestock Indemnity Program, which compensates producers 75 percent of their animals' market value up to a combined $125,000 per year. LIP paid out more than $134 million to cover the deaths of almost 2.5 million poultry and more than 202,000 other livestock from 2013 to 2015, HFA says it learned from a Freedom of Information Act request.

But the animal welfare group thinks USDA is giving away the funds too easily. "Compensating producers for dead livestock without ever requiring adequate shelter or shade is actually a disincentive to farmers and ranchers to take the necessary steps to provide their animals with protections from inclement weather," HFA contends in its petition.

The group filed a similar petition to USDA in May 2016, while Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack was still at the department, but it didn't get the response it had hoped for. Alexis Taylor, deputy under secretary for farm and foreign agricultural services, told HFA in November that the department thought the 25-percent loss of value was "a strong incentive." "We were disheartened by the Secretary's non-response to this important issue," HFA says in its letter to Perdue. "We hope that you will take a fresh look and appropriate action regarding this critical issue." USDA did not respond to a request for comment on Tuesday.

PETERSON WOULD DO AWAY WITH ARC: If he had his way, Rep. Collin Peterson , ranking member of the House Agriculture Committee, would get rid of the Agriculture Risk Coverage program commonly used by corn and soybean farmers and keep the Price Loss Coverage program. ARC won't be sufficient in the event of an average or below-average crop, he told Brownfield Ag News in a recent interview following a farm bill listening session in Minnesota. "I think we should put more money into the farm bill," Peterson said. "In my view, I think we should get rid of the ARC program. We should have PLC [and] raise the floor [to] $4 dollars for corn [and] $10.50 for soybeans and just have PLC." Read the Brownfield Ag News article and listen to the interview here.

A BEAUTIFUL DAY TO CHAT WOTUS: EPA officials will hold a two-hour meeting at the agency's headquarters this afternoon with groups representing state and local officials to solicit their "input and wisdom" on the planned rewrite of the Waters of the U.S. rule. In a letter extending the invitation last week, EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt said the consultation is a priority "to both myself and President Trump." Pruitt won't be on hand for the meeting, though, since he'll be traveling in the Midwest.

Don't expect unanimity: States were fiercely divided on the Obama administration's rule, with more than 30 filing suits against it, while others sided with EPA in support. Meanwhile, some of the associations that were invited to the meeting represent a specific set of interests in states - for instance, sewer administrators and wetlands managers - whose stake in the rule could even differ from their governors'.

CARPER QUESTIONS PRUITT'S WOTUS PLANS: Sen. Tom Carper, ranking member on the Environment and Public Works Committee, has asked Pruitt to disavow any discussions among some industry groups about whether the agency could hire private lawyers to rewrite the Waters of the U.S. regulation, Pro's Annie Snider reports. It comes after POLITICO reported that some industry groups with close ties to Pruitt are exploring whether EPA could outsource work on the contentious regulation. In response, EPA spokeswoman Liz Bowman said: "To my knowledge, we are not contracting with an outside firm at this time for WOTUS."

SKIPPING CHICAGO: Pruitt will talk about WOTUS during his trip to the Midwest this week, but he won't be stopping in at the agency's regional office in Chicago, Pro's Anthony Adragna reports. Union representatives for some 1,000 EPA employees in the Midwest want to meet with the EPA administrator when he is in Indiana on Wednesday to push back on a rumored plan to shutter the agency's Region 5 office. The Chicago office spans the upper Midwest and has played a key role in initiatives aimed at curbing agricultural runoff that is contributing to algal blooms in the Great Lakes. A report over the weekend suggested Chicago-based Region 5 could be consolidated into Kansas-based Region 7, though the EPA strongly denied it was planning to close the office. More for Pros here.

CLIMATE CHANGE MEETING PUT OFF: Trump's most senior advisers postponed a meeting Tuesday during which they had hoped to bridge the administration's internal divide over whether the U.S. should remain in the Paris climate change agreement, POLITICO's Andrew Restuccia reports. A White House aide said the gathering was being rescheduled because several Trump advisers were traveling with the president to Wisconsin.

TRUMP DEMANDS ANSWERS FROM CANADA ON DAIRY IMPORTS: President Donald Trump visited Wisconsin on Tuesday and defended U.S. dairy farmers in their growing dispute with Canada, Pro Trade's Adam Behsudi reports. "We are also going to stand up for our dairy farmers in Wisconsin," Trump said in a speech in Kenosha. The president said the administration is going to "call Canada" and "get a solution, not just the answer."

The Canadian dairy industry is implementing a new pricing program and "national ingredients strategy" that allows Canadian cheese-makers to buy certain ingredients at the lowest world market price, a policy that's effectively pricing out U.S. exports of ultra-filtered milk.

Industry groups say the policy has already led to farmers in Wisconsin losing contracts with major U.S. dairy processors that ship the products north of the border to be made into cheese - and they want the administration to retaliate against the measures and challenge them at the WTO.

MEXICAN TRADE OFFICIAL: ARGENTINA DEAL BY YEAR'S END: Juan Carlos Baker, Mexico's deputy trade minister, said Tuesday that he expects his country's negotiations with Argentina involving cars and agricultural products to be finished around the end of the year, Reuters reports. Baker was part of a team of Mexican negotiators to visit Buenos Aires this week. The comments are sure to rattle U.S. producers. Mexico imported $2.3 billion worth of U.S. corn and $1.4 billion of U.S. soy in 2015, but Baker reportedly said those numbers will likely decrease under a renegotiated NAFTA deal. Read the Reuters story here .

MCCASKILL GETS A LITTLE HELP FROM FRIENDS: Sen. Claire McCaskill is receiving a little boost in her effort to get reelected in 2018 from Majority Forward, a nonprofit controlled by allies of Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, POLITICO's Kevin Robillard reports. The group is spending $500,000 on radio ads backing the Missouri Democrat.

Trump won Missouri by more than 18 percentage points, racking up large margins in the state's rural counties, and a number of Republicans are considering bids to challenge McCaskill, Robillard says. The new ads tout the incumbent for promoting and protecting rural hospitals, while emphasizing her father's work in agriculture and that she grew up in small towns. More from Robillard here.

ADVOCACY GROUPS BLOCKED FROM DEFENDING SEAFOOD RULE: A D.C. federal judge will not allow Oceana, the Natural Resources Defense Council and the Center for Biological Diversity to intervene in a lawsuit filed against the National Marine Fisheries Service's new seafood traceability rule, Undercurrent News reports . U.S. District Court Judge Amit Mehta found that the advocacy groups lack standing to defend the regulation, which has been challenged in a complaint brought by the National Fisheries Institute and several large seafood processors. NFI says it supports efforts to fight illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing but believes the rule that NMFS published Dec. 9 could be enforced in an "arbitrary" way.

TRUMP'S PICK TO LEAD EX-IM RILES FPA: One of President Donald Trump's recent picks to serve on the board of the Ex-Im Bank, former Rep. Scott Garrett, isn't a fan of the bank - and the food movement isn't a fan of him.

The New Jersey Republican, who has criticized Ex-Im for perpetuating "crony capitalism," was one of the top targets of Food Policy Action during the 2016 election cycle over his support for SNAP cuts. Garrett lost re-election to Josh Gottheimer, a Democrat.

"Scott Garrett was a bad choice for the 5th district of New Jersey and is a bad choice to lead the EXIM bank," said Tom Colicchio, a well-known chef who co-founded FPA, in an email to MA. "Former Congressman Garrett continually put corporate interests ahead of the health of American families by slashing funding for food inspectors and voting against measures that keep food imports and exports safe."

House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer had some harsh words for Garrett as well: "Once again, President Trump has selected a nominee to lead an agency that individual believes should not exist and has tried to destroy," Hoyer said in a statement. "If former Rep. Garrett is confirmed to lead the Bank, it would be the ultimate act of sabotage."

MA'S INSTANT OATS:

- A new petition on the White House's We the People website is looking for 100,000 signatures to call for the U.S. to ban Brazilian beef, Food Safety News reports. At press time, just 98,000 signatures to go.

- A Wisconsin dairy farmer learns about where his farm workers' wages go - and follows the money all the way back to Mexico where it's helped transform communities. Marketplace has the story here.

- Agriculture leaders in Nebraska say two "high profile" bills scheduled for debate by their state lawmakers don't provide enough property tax reform and relief, KTIC radio reports.

- Large populations of true armyworm moths are moving north toward Illinois, Indiana and Ohio earlier than ever this year, threatening corn, wheat, barley and other grain crops, DTN reports.

THAT'S ALL FOR MA! See you again soon! In the meantime, drop your host and the rest of the team a line: cboudreau@politico.com and @ceboudreau; jhopkinson@politico.com and @JennyHops; hbottemiller@politico.com and @hbottemiller; bgriffiths@politico.com and @BrentGriffiths; jlauinger@politico.com and @jmlauinger; and jhuffman@politico.com and @JsonHuffman. You can also follow @POLITICOPro and @Morning_Ag on Twitter.

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