Washington Insider -- Friday

Growing More Food on Less Land

Here’s a quick monitor of Washington farm and trade policy issues from DTN’s well-placed observer.

US Beef Gains Access To Moroccan Market

Morocco has agreed to lift its ban on U.S. beef and beef products, giving American suppliers their first chance to profit from a free trade agreement between the two countries.

The decision, which follows Morocco’s opening to U.S. poultry in August, was announced by U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer and USDA Secretary, Sonny Perdue.

“New access to the Moroccan market for beef and beef products is an important step in ensuring that American farmers and ranchers can continue to expand their exports of U.S. agricultural products,” said Ambassador Lighthizer.

“I welcome Morocco’s agreement to allow imports of U.S. beef and look forward to growing our shipments to Morocco.”

The United States has a free trade agreement with Morocco and can therefore export beef at zero duty, within tariff rate quotas. The duty-free quota volume for USDA Choice or Prime beef cuts is 6,404 metric tons for this year and 6,660 metric tons in 2019. The quota volume for other beef cuts and variety meat is 2,343 metric tons this year and 2,390 metric tons in 2019.

All duties on U.S. beef will be phased to zero by 2023, but Morocco’s out-of-quota duties are currently extremely high at 275%. The U.S. Meat Export Federation says U.S. beef should therefore have an advantage over competitors - although the EU is currently negotiating a free trade agreement with Morocco.

With shipments now approved, the USTR says initial estimates indicate that Morocco would be an $80 million market for US beef and beef products. This would represent a significant increase in total imports for a country which only spent $28 million on imports of beef last year.

EPA Asks Court to Stay Challenge Of Livestock Air Emissions Lawsuit

EPA has asked a federal court to stay litigation challenging agency guidance that exempts livestock operations from reporting releases of hazardous air emissions to local and state emergency officials.

The agency contends the case should be put on hold while it works on a rule that will expand the exemption and make it permanent.

The request is unlikely to satisfy environmentalists who have long been frustrated with EPA’s bid to shield livestock operations from the reporting requirements of the Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act (EPCRA).

A federal appeals court in 2017 sided with environmentalists and blocked a 2008 rule that exempted most Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations from EPCRA. The move prompted the Trump administration to issue new guidance last year that went further than the 2008 rule, exempting all farms from the EPCRA requirements.

In March 2018, Congress amended the Superfund law with language in an omnibus spending bill to expressly exempt air emissions from animal waste at farms from that statute's reporting requirements. EPA in April 2018 issued a second guidance document reiterating the exemption for livestock operations from EPCRA.

On Oct. 1, the Center for Food Safety, Food & Water Watch and others filed a lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia challenging both sets of guidance. The groups argue the agency's actions violated federal administrative law, alleging the two guidance documents essentially constitute a legislative rule that requires public notice and comment.

The groups filed a motion for summary judgment on Oct. 29, arguing that EPA's rulemaking through "guidance" – without notice and comment – "flouts basic tenets" of administrative law.

In its Nov. 30 filing with the court, EPA says the legal landscape has changed, noting that it has released a proposed rule to finalize the EPCRA exemption. The proposal was published Nov. 14 in the Federal Register, and EPA intends to take comments through Dec. 14.

Washington Insider: Growing More Food on Less Land

While there still is intense skepticism about global warming in the United States, the New York Times said on Thursday that “If the world hopes to make meaningful progress on climate change, it won’t be enough for cars and factories to get cleaner. Our cows and wheat fields will have to become radically more efficient, too.”

This basic conclusion was cited in what the Times called a “sweeping new study by the World Resources Institute, an environmental group.” The study warns that the world’s agricultural system will need drastic changes in order to feed billions more people without triggering a climate catastrophe.

The challenge is daunting: Agriculture is responsible for about a quarter of humanity’s greenhouse gas emissions, the Times says. But with the global population expected to grow from 7.2 billion people today to nearly 10 billion by 2050, and with many millions of people demanding better diets as incomes rise, that environmental impact is on pace to expand dramatically.

Based on current trends, the authors calculated the world would need to produce 56 percent more calories in 2050 than it did in 2010. If farmers and ranchers met that demand by clearing away more forests and other ecosystems for cropland and pasture, as they have often done in the past, they would end up transforming an area twice the size of India.

That, in turn, could make it nearly impossible to control global warming even if the world’s fossil-fuel emissions were rapidly phased down. When forests are converted into farmland, the large stores of carbon locked away in those trees is released into the atmosphere.

The new study, the result of six years’ worth of modeling work conducted in partnership with French agricultural researchers, is far from the first to warn that feeding the world sustainably will be a formidable task. But the authors claim they are taking a different view of the most plausible solutions.

In the past, researchers who have looked at the food problem have suggested that the key to a sustainable agriculture system is to persuade consumers to eat far less meat and waste far less of the food that’s already grown, the study says.

This report, however, cautions that there may be limits to how much those strategies can achieve on their own. The authors do recommend that the biggest consumers of beef and lamb, such as Europe and the United States, could cut back their consumption by about 40 percent by 2050. Those two types of meat have especially large environmental footprints.

But the authors are not counting on a major worldwide shift to vegetarianism.

“We wanted to avoid relying on magic asterisks,” said Timothy Searchinger, a researcher at Princeton University and the World Resources Institute and lead author of the report. “We could imagine a significant shift from beef to chicken, and that by itself goes a long way.”

In addition to actions on diet and food waste the researchers also focused on dozens of broad strategies that could allow farmers and ranchers to grow far more food while cutting emissions, a feat that would require shifts in farming practices and rapid advances in technology, the Times said.

For example, in important beef production areas, the best-managed grazing lands can produce four times as much per acre as poorly managed lands — owing to differences in livestock health and range management. Improving productivity across the board could help satisfy rising meat demand while reducing pressure on the rain forest.

Still, the report notes that reaching productivity goals could face headwinds from rising temperatures that reduce crop yields. But many of the recommendations in the report, such as breeding new, higher-yielding crop varieties or preventing soil erosion, could also help farmers adapt to climate change, Searchinger said.

In another contentious recommendation, the report’s authors call for limits on the use of bioenergy crops, such as corn, for fuels for cars that compete with food crops for land.

Money is also a hurdle. The report’s authors call for large increases in public research funding as well as new regulations that would encourage private industry to develop sustainable agricultural technologies.

While the new study is being billed as path-breaking, similar themes have been explored by numerous public and private groups in recent years. The concept of the sector’s need to rely on limited land resources while supporting rapid growth in technology is often heard among private ag firms as well as public land grant universities — but it is frequently spun toward social goals.

Certainly, hard questions will be asked of Searchinger and WRI as they work to provide necessary balance to the very important debate about the future of food and agriculture as the climate changes, Washington Insider believes.

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