The Supplement: NGFA Weekly News Wrap-Up – December 15, 2017
Perdue remains optimistic about NAFTA deal: Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue told a National Press Club luncheon audience on Dec. 12 that he remains optimistic that the United States, Canada and Mexico ultimately will be successful in achieving a modernized North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) that benefits the people and economies of all three countries. Joking that he had asked Santa for a NAFTA deal, Perdue noted that President Trump is a “tough negotiator” and conceded that U.S. negotiating strategy may create “some anxiety along the way.” But he said he was “confident” the president wants to achieve a NAFTA agreement. During his remarks on NAFTA, Perdue also reiterated that U.S. agriculture is the “foundation” for America’s manufacturing sector, creating jobs and economic growth. He noted that 20 percent of U.S. farm income is tied directly to trade, amounting to more than $140 billion in fiscal year 2017.
In response to questions, Perdue said the president is “an interesting person” who welcomes and listens to input, and is open to changing his mind in response to sound, persuasive arguments. View more on Perdue’s comments here.
Republicans reach tax reform agreement: Republicans reached an agreement this week on their tax overhaul bill, but have not provided text yet. The full conference agreement is expected to be released by the end of this week, after which the Joint Committee on Taxation must obtain a cost estimate on the final version of the bill. Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn, R-Texas, said the package might be ready for Senate floor debate as early as Monday. Republicans have promised to pass a final tax plan before the end of the year, hoping to enact the first tax code overhaul since 1986. Causing further urgency is the fact that the Senate majority will shrink from 52 to 51 seats when Democratic Sen.-elect Doug Jones of Alabama is sworn in next year.
STB requests additional service data from CSX as CEO Hunter Harrison goes on medical leave: The federal Surface Transportation Board on Dec. 14 issued a letter to CSX Transportation Inc. requesting an update on restoring reliable rail service to its customers – the same day CSX announced that President and Chief Operating Officer E. Hunter Harrison was taking medical leave because of “unexpected complications from a recent illness.” CSX named recently hired Chief Operating Officer James Foote as acting CEO. In its letter to CSX, the STB said it “continues to hear concerns related to CSX service challenges or inadequate service, particularly about unsatisfactory ‘last mile’ performance and lack of communication regarding changes before they occur.” The agency also noted that car order fulfillment and local service performance “have lagged when compared to 2016 and first quarter 2017” metrics, while saying that it “recognized several other key performance measures have shown noticeable improvement in recent weeks”
In its letter, the STB requested a detailed update addressing car order fulfillment, local service performance, car trip plan performance, communication with customers, including providing advance notice of important service changes, and modifications implemented or planned concerning CSX’s operations in and around the Chicago gateway.
USDA eliminates prevented planting insurance option: The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Risk Management Agency last week announced that for the 2018 crop, farmers won’t be able to buy 10 percent higher coverage for prevented planting, an insurance option that compensates farmers for a portion of their input costs if weather prevents them from planting. Previously, there has been an option for policyholders of some crops to increase prevented planting coverage by 5 or 10 percent. While RMA has removed the 10 percent option, the 5 percent option still is available. The change is expected to save $1.4 billion over a decade. In regulatory review comments submitted to the agency this year, the NGFA expressed concerns about the impact of prevented planting provisions on producers’ planting decisions and recommended USDA make adjustments to how it administers the policy.
Jan. 17 webinar to connect grain quality and safety: Registration now is availablefor a special webinar presentation on how the proper handling and storage of grain intersects with improved safety practices, including engulfment prevention. A benefit of the alliance entered into in September between the National Grain and Feed Association (NGFA) and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), the “How Grain Quality and Safety Intersect” webinar will air Jan. 17, 2018, at 3 p.m. EST/2 p.m. CDT.
Access the latest NGFA Safety Tips: New “NGFA Safety Tips” sheets are available to view, print and share. Hand Tool Safety and Lifting, Rigging and Hoisting are covered in the latest documents, available on the safety section of the NGFA website. “NGFA Safety Tips” guides, authored by NGFA Manager of Training, Education and Regulatory Affairs Jim Seibert, can be widely used and shared. View more information about NGFA’s safety program online.
Trump to release infrastructure plan principles in January: The Trump administration this week signaled that it will issue detailed “principles” early next year for a proposed infrastructure bill, even though a funding source has not been identified. The announcement is scheduled to occur before Trump’s Jan. 30 State of the Union address to Congress. The guiding principle of the Trump plan will be to shift responsibility for infrastructure funding from the federal government to states and localities, which own or control infrastructure assets. The principles reportedly will retain the administration’s previous proposal to allocate at least $200 billion in federal funds over 10 years, designed to spur at least $800 billion in spending by states, localities and the private sector, while also calling for a significant streamlining of environmental reviews and permitting requirements for projects. The administration’s plan reportedly will allocate federal funding into four areas: 1) funds for states and localities, with preference for entities that generate their own funding toward projects; 2) formula block grants for rural areas; 3) federal lending programs; and 4) funds for “transformational” projects, such as plans to build high-speed commuter trains.
During a briefing attended by the NGFA on Dec. 14, administration officials said the White House will stress that infrastructure needs to be viewed more like a utility rather than as a public good – implying that it will seek significant non-federal funding sources for projects. While administration officials conceded that the inland waterway system’s locks and dams are one of the few infrastructure investments that it “owns,” the White House to this point has continued to insist that the private sector pay for desperately needed renovations through lockage and tolling fees.
Convention registration open: Registration is open for the NGFA’s 122nd Annual Convention at the Westin Kierland Resort & Spa in Scottsdale, Ariz. Save money by registering before the Feb. 23 early bird deadline!
Country Elevator Conference presentations and survey available: Presentations from the 46th annual Country Elevator Conference that took place in Louisville, Ky., earlier this month are available on the NGFA website. If you attended the conference and haven’t yet filled out the survey, please do so before it closes on Dec. 20.
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