Tom Hall, Senior Agronomist, Rooster Strategic Solutions

Rooster is following issues that threaten production agriculture, ranking them from 1 (Low Danger) to 5 (Extreme Danger). We are watching closely the issues that many activists, lobbyists, and trade associations hope will be addressed by executive or legislative action by the new Administration and Congress. We are also watching for any last-minute actions the Trump Administration might take before leaving office. As the new administration settles in we will revise the rankings early in the new year.

The imminent threats we’re following:

  • Ethanol Outlook: Level 4 – High Danger
  • Animal Ag and Nutrient Management: Level 3 – Considerable Danger
  • Crop Protection Products: Level 2 – Moderate Danger
  • Senate and House Ag Committee Bipartisanship Level 3 – Considerable Danger
  • Weed and Insect Resistance: Level 5 – Extreme Danger

Ethanol: Level 4, High Danger

We start this overview with something that didn’t happen: The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) missed the November 30 deadline to set the 2021 Renewable Volume Obligation (RVO).  Agricultural advocates hoped that the Trump administration would set a favorable RVO before leaving office, but there’s been no inclination to do this. The RVO set by the Biden Administration will send a strong signal to corn farmers as to their approach on this critical issue.

Animal Ag and Nutrient Management: Level 3, Considerable Danger

Large livestock farms are the subject of many proposed initiatives. These could be discretionary agency action, executive order, or new legislation. The new USEPA administrator will have a large say in which direction the agency takes regulating Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs).  One action that we see as both plausible and highly disrupting is the suspension on granting new CAFO permits.  Another scenario – which we don’t believe to be very likely – is to use the pause to develop a CAFO transition plan to smaller animal numbers.

CAFOs to date are not included in programs that regulate air pollutants. The new Biden Administration is being asked to initiate rulemaking to list all CAFO air pollutants as regulated air pollutants.  Another ask is to revoke the exemption of CAFOs from mandatory reporting of their hazardous waste pollution that could be done with administrative action.  Regulating air pollutants would have a much higher administrative hurdle to cross than revoking the reporting exemption.

The activist’s holy grail is to overturn the definition of Water of the United States (WOTUS).  This rule defines which water bodies are subject to regulation of the Clean Water Act.  The Trump revision was finalized after a four-year tug of war between industry, environmental activists, and farmers. To change this rule takes either an act of Congress or reopening the rulemaking progress.  There is no easy victory here. No matter what the new administration decides to do, it will likely be challenged in court, as well as in the court of public opinion.

Crop Protection Products: Level 2, Moderate Danger

High on activists’ wish lists is a desire to overturn the recent re-registration of glyphosate. Their best avenue of attack is using the Endangered Species Act. The registration of glyphosate was completed conditionally on a favorable biological evaluation (BE) on its impact on threatened or endangered species. The draft report is now out and open for comment and it found many species could be threatened particularly by non-ag uses. The use of glyphosate will be determined by the new EPA administrator and Secretary of Interior who oversees the Fish and Wildlife Service.

The recent amended registrations of the herbicides Xtend and Engenia are likely to be challenged in the new administration. The new EPA Administrator will be urged to revoke the labels on grounds of court decisions that found the labels did not meet EPA’s own administrative guidelines.

House and Senate Ag Committee Bipartisanship: Level 3, Considerable Danger

U.S. Representative Colin Peterson from Minnesota was serving as the chairman of the House Committee on Agriculture until he lost his seat in last month’s elections. This opens the door for significant change on the House Ag committee.  We believe the selection of Representative David Scott from Georgia to replace Peterson is a great sign for farmers. Rep. Scott will likely have more sympathy for non-program crops like peanuts and cotton. There is still clamor from activists for the Ag committee to move resources from farm programs to nutrition.  The narrowing of the House Democrat majority will likely protect the current balance between farm and nutrition program funding.

As conditions change, we’ll do our best to alert you on these issues and tell you if they’re moving up or down the “danger list.” For now, we recommend:

  • Joining an organization like Farm Bureau or other Ag livestock for commodity organizations will help you see what is coming and how they can plan accordingly.
  • Lend your voice to shape legislation, both in writing and by attending public hearings.
  • Take action to stay in front the situation. For example, every livestock farm should implement a nutrient management plant with the guidance of local soil and water associations or the NRCS.