Roundup: Other Parts of the ‘Spending’ Bill

Farmer groups complain about provision put in spending bill • "Buy and dry" • The rise of women farmers • America's high Internet prices • Wal-Mart is thinking small • Photographing the center of the U.S. • Ohio bill full of "trash"

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With $1.1 trillion in spending in the House version of federal appropriations for the coming year, there’s plenty love or hate, all around.

The Yonder will look at some of the possible funding implications for various rural programs next week. For now, here are a few of the bill’s ag-related items that have more to do with regulation than spending. These come courtesy of a letter from the National Farmers Union (NFU) and the U.S. Cattlemen’s Association (USCA) to congressional leaders.

First, there’s language in the bill that affects Country of Origin Labeling, or COOL. COOL, a law that has been on the books for years, requires meat packers to label their products with clear information about the source of the meat – the country of origin. The spending bill contains a proviso that might make it easier to weaken the COOL law or reconsider it altogether.

The letter from NFU and USCA says the legislation would interfere with international review occurring at the World Trade Organization about how to handle COOL. A meat-packing group, on the other hand, says the changes in COOL are needed to avoid hurting U.S. international competitiveness.

Another provision of the legislation would block the Ag Department from starting a second beef check-off program that would compete with the program now run by the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association. The letter from the farmers union and cattlemen’s association accuses the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association of lobbying Congress to circumvent the normal process for reviewing the success of the current check-off program.

And, finally, the bill would weaken the authority of the Grain Inspection, Packers and Stockyard Administration (GIPSA) to fight fraud, deception and anti-competitive practices in the meatpacking industry, according to the letter.

“We strongly object to the use of the appropriations process as a mechanism to limit the secretary’s authority to uphold the COOL law, to respond to the dire need for reform of the beef checkoff, and to address anti-competitive market concerns,” the letter says

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More agricultural areas are suffering from what some are calling the "buy and dry" problem. Cities in the southwest U.S., dried out from drought and an increasing population, buy water rights from upstream farmers, who then don’t have enough water to irrigate and grow their crops, which puts them out of business. There are ways to reduce the issues that come with “buy and dry,” though, according to the Environmental Defense Fund's Jennifer Pitt:

"Ambitious urban water conservation programs and more investment in agricultural efficiency and infrastructure to reduce water use can have a huge impact. Water banks and markets that pay irrigators a fair price, while avoiding permanent fallowing practices, should also be part of a portfolio of solutions to Western water woes.”

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NPR says the way we view women farmers, who are an under-reported and under-appreciated segment of the agricultural community, is changing for the better. 

"Women have always worked in agriculture, historically. I think a key issue is whether or not it's counted," says Julie Zimmerman, a rural sociologist at the University of Kentucky who studies how women's roles on the farm have changed over time.

"If you see working on your farm as being part of your role, as the spouse or the wife as helping out, then you might not even recognize it as being 'working on the farm,' even if you're doing it all the time," Zimmerman says.

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Americans have a reason to whine about the high cost of Internet service, according to a story by Quartz. The U.S. ranks fourth from the bottom in price among the 34 Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development countries.

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Wal-Mart is ramping up its plan of opening smaller stores in small towns and carrying fewer items. Small towns in Texas, for example, will be getting 37 new “Wal-Mart Neighborhood Markets” in the next few months. The stores will come in two sizes, 12,000 and 40,000 square feet. The smaller stores will are slightly larger than Dollar Stores and will be in similarly sized markets.

Wal-Mart said last summer that it’s shifting its focus to smaller stores. The Neighborhood Market is about the size of a Walgreens but larger than a Dollar General, which is about 7,300 square feet.

Texas is Dollar General’s largest state. It operates 1,238 stores here, mostly in small rural towns like the ones Wal-Mart is targeting for its 12,000-square-foot stores.

Dollar General, the largest U.S. dollar chain, has been aggressively expanding its food selection, but it doesn’t carry fresh meats and produce in Texas and has no plans to do so, Dollar General spokesman Dan MacDonald said.

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Photographer Benjamin Hoste has spent a good deal of time the past few years documenting a town in Missouri that is the statistical mean center of population of the United States. That means that Plato, population 109, is where “an imaginary, flat, weightless and rigid map of the United States would balance perfectly if all residents were of identical weight," according to the U.S. Census Bureau.  CNN talked to Hoste about the project:

When he first visited Plato, Hoste said he was struck by the fact that it appeared to be a town that "doesn't really have a center." "There's no real middle of the town," he said, other than maybe the school, which is a community rallying point.

The same could be said of America. This is the age of the 99% and the 1% — red and blue, black and white. We've always been a country divided, but those divisions seem to be especially visible now — particularly the income gap, which has been widening since the 70s; the race gap; and, importantly, the underlying empathy gap.

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A house bill aimed at cleaning up the green slime that infested the Toledo, Ohio, water treatment plant last year has been killed for this session due to the bill being loaded with garbage amendments by lame duck legislators, according to a Cleveland Plain Dealer editorial.

One of the most objectionable of the new amendments was a water-withdrawal provision that would have violated the Great Lakes Compact.

Another section eliminating landline telephone service for some rural customers prompted Gov. John Kasich to fire a warning shot across the bow of HB 490 last month, threatening a veto.

Yet HB 490 also contained worthwhile algal-related proposals, including a prohibition on dumping river dredge in Lake Erie and tightened provisions on the use of manure in the western Lake Erie basin.

When Faber rightly tossed HB 490 down the garbage chute this week, he promised to revisit "important issues" in the legislation next year. Good.

 

 

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