Federal Policy News
September 8, 2022
CAFB Joins Letter to DOI on IRA Drought Funding 
A coalition of Western agriculture and water organizations, including the California Farm Bureau, sent a letter last week to the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation urging swift implementation of the $4 billion in drought funding included in the Inflation Reduction Act recently passed by Congress and signed by President Biden.   
Specifically, the letter asks Reclamation to quickly release a Notice of Funding Availability to guide water managers and agricultural producers who are currently developing drought response proposals and offers a series of recommendations for the funding for Reclamation’s consideration. In addition to focusing on near-term steps, the letter also emphasized the need to continue to advance solutions that will improve water management in the long-term. These opportunities include forest restoration activities that improve the health and productivity of our watersheds, conservation and efficiency measures, and augmentation of supply ranging from groundwater development, recycling, and new conveyance and storage. 
RMA Broadens Access for Whole Farm and Micro Farm Coverage
Last week, the USDA’s Risk Management Agency (RMA) announced plans to bolster the Whole-Farm Revenue Protection Program (WFRP) and Micro Farm, a sub-program aimed at smaller producers. Under the new changes, WFRP will allow producers to ensure up to $17 million in revenue (up from $8.5 million), report and self-certify yield at the beginning of the year for commodities without other insurance options in a way similar to those with individual crop policies, and will also eliminate expense reporting in favor of reducing the expected revenue of commodities a producer is unable to plant to 60%. The latter two are intended to reduce the paperwork burden that has often been cited as a complaint among the program’s users.  
In addition, the threshold for farming operations eligible to qualify for the Micro Farm program has been increased from $100,000 to $350,000. This portion of WFRP was introduced in 2021 and appears to have been generally well-received by participants. The increased threshold should give even more producers the opportunity to cover all commodities on their farm under this program. In a quote in their release, RMA Administrator Marcia Bunger said, “... through updates to Whole Farm Revenue Protection and Micro Farm, RMA can now help even more local food, direct market, specialty crop and organic producers protect their operations.”  

EPA Proposed Rule to Designate PFAS as Hazardous Substances 
In August 2022, the Environmental Protection Agency announced a proposed rule to designate perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) and perfluorooctanesulfonic acid (PFOS), the two most common per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), as hazardous materials under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act. CERCLA is the federal statute that provides a federal “superfund” to clean up uncontrolled or abandoned hazardous-waste sites as well as accidents, spills and other emergency releases of pollutants and contaminants into the environment. California Farm Bureau intends to stay engaged on the issue and plans to submit comments to the Federal Register. 
Fourth Round of Applications Open for Rural Broadband Access
USDA Rural Development announced earlier this week that applications would be opening for Round Four funding with their ReConnect Program. The Bipartisan Infrastructure Law set aside over $1 billion in funding towards several rural development programs, including the expansion of broadband to previously underserved communities. The last round included two programs in the state of California. Applicants must live in rural areas where residents and businesses lack access to affordable high-speed internet. This includes agricultural-heavy areas, lesser-populated towns, tribal lands, and others. To learn more on whether your community would qualify, click below. 
Modoc Wild Horse Gather Set to Begin 
The USDA Forest Service will begin gathering 500 wild horses from the Devil’s Garden Plateau Wild Horse Territory on September 12th, 2022. The purpose of the gather is to continue moving toward the 206-402 appropriate management level prescribed by the 2013 Devil’s Garden Plateau Wild Horse Territory Management Plan. Gather contractors will be using mechanized equipment and bait traps to gather horses.
The 2022 population census resulted in an estimated 1,205 adult horses on and around the territory. Reducing the wild horse population will help address unsustainable impacts on aquatic resources, wildlife, hunting, grazing and other traditional cultural practices. Previously, California Farm Bureau provided comments to the Modoc National Forest in support of their wild horse gather. The letter also expressed support for continued use of helicopters and motorized vehicles. 

DOT Extends Modified National Emergency Declaration for Commercial Vehicles 
The U.S. Department of Transportation’s Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) has extended their modified expanded national emergency declaration to provide hours-of-service regulatory relief to commercial vehicle drivers transporting emergency relief in response to the nationwide coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak. The notice extends the exemption through October 15, 2022. 
The extension of Emergency Declaration No. 2020-002 provides regulatory relief for commercial motor vehicle operations providing direct assistance in support of emergency relief efforts related to COVID-19 and is limited to transportation of the following freights: 

(1) livestock and livestock feed; 
(2) medical supplies and equipment related to the testing, diagnosis and treatment of COVID-19; 
(3) vaccines, constituent products, and medical supplies and equipment including ancillary supplies/kits for the administration of vaccines, related to the prevention of COVID-19; 
(4) supplies and equipment necessary for community safety, sanitation, and prevention of community transmission of COVID-19 such as masks, gloves, hand sanitizer, soap and disinfectants; and 
(5) food, paper products and other groceries for emergency restocking of distribution centers or stores. 
(6) gasoline, diesel, DEF, jet fuel, and ethyl alcohol; and heating fuel including propane, natural gas, and heating oil. 

USDA to Create Six Regional Food Business Centers
Yesterday, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced that $400 million would be made available for the creation of six new "Regional Food Business Centers." These centers are intended to improve coordination between the USDA and other federal, state, local, and tribal agencies regarding new and existing agency programs, provide technical assistance to small- and mid-sized food and farm businesses, and provide financial assistance via a "subaward" program to support regional projects. 
The centers are intended to help strengthen regional food supply systems and partnerships. The USDA cited it as a "lessons learned" response to areas where the COVID-19 pandemic show vulnerabilities in our nation's supply chains. Although there is an application process for the establishment of these six new centers, four will be required to include a National Tribal Center and the regions of: Colonias (counties on the US-Mexico border), high-need areas in the Delta/Southeast, and the Appalachia. For more information on the application process, click here
USDA H-2A Study Examines Potential Impacts of Ag Labor Reform Bill
Late last week, the USDA’s Economic Research Service (ERS) released an extensive study on the H-2A visa program, which also included an examination of the potential impacts of the Farm Workforce Modernization Act (FWMA), if it had passed prior to 2020. According to the study, the average value of individual H-2A contracts in 2020 ranged anywhere from $8,000 to $24,000; however, it is important to note the Adverse Effect Wage Rate (AEWR), which governs the hourly wages for H-2A workers, has increased nearly 19% since then in California alone. This would mean the average contract for California would very likely exceed this $24,000 estimate for 2022. 
On the AEWR, the ERS also looked at what the potential impacts would have been if the one-year freeze had been implemented for contracted workers. They estimated that employers would have saved $140 million in wage costs for H-2A if this had gone into effect. However, they also found that roughly 50,000 domestic workers would have lost around $29 million in combined wages due to “corresponding employment” on farms with H-2A workers (domestic workers must be paid the same rate at minimum). While the study does help show that the AEWR freeze would save a sizeable amount for farmers in the US, the report also paints a negative picture for domestic workers as well. To learn more on this, the link below has the full report and a shorter summary. 
Registration Remains Open for Federal Milk Marketing Order Forum 
At the beginning of August, the American Farm Bureau Federation announced their plans to host a Federal Milk Marketing Order (FMMO) Forum to be held in Kansas City from October 14th – 16th. The forum is intended to be for all dairy industry participants, including farmers, processors, and exporters. USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack had previously called on the industry to come together and discuss potential changes and improvements to the program—and the event should represent a major step towards identifying potential solutions and proposals to current issues within the system. For more on the event and registration, please see below. 
Federal Policy Team
Sara Arsenault
Director of Federal Policy
Matthew Viohl
Federal Policy, Associate Director
Erin Hutson
Federal Policy, Consultant