Indian govt offers to suspend farm reforms; farmers may call off protests

By Mayank Bhardwaj

NEW DELHI (Reuters) – India’s government on Wednesday offered to suspend implementation of three new farm laws that have triggered the biggest farmers’ protests in years, which farm union leaders said they would now consider calling off.

The cornerstone of the reform, introduced in September, allows private buyers to deal directly with farmers.

Angry farmers, who say that will make India’s traditional wholesale markets irrelevant and leave them at the mercy of big retailers and food processors, have camped out on major highways outside New Delhi for more than two months.

Agriculture & Farmers Welfare Minister Narendra Singh Tomar said the government was open to suspending the laws for up to 18 months, during which time representatives of the government and farmers should work to “provide solutions” for the industry.

Bilateral talks have so far failed to break the deadlock – landing Prime Minister Narendra Modi with one of his most significant challenges since he was re-elected in 2019.

The next round of talks is due on Friday, and farm leader Dharmendra Malik said the unions would let the government know then if they would accept the offer and call off the protests.

The government was “sympathetic to farmers’ concerns and is trying to end the stalemate,” it said in a government, thanking them for maintaining “peace and discipline” during the protests.

Farmers plan a tractor rally through New Delhi on Jan 26, India’s Republic Day, which the Supreme Court on Wednesday declined a government petition to ban.

(Reporting by Mayank Bhardwaj; additional reporting by Suchitra Mohanty and Nigam Prusty; editing by John Stonestreet)

U.S. House pauses vote on bill to fund government and avoid shutdown

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. House of Representatives put on hold an expected Tuesday vote on a bill to fund the government through Dec. 11, while bipartisan congressional leaders discussed whether to include farm aid sought by President Donald Trump, lawmakers and aides said.

The delay “relates to numerous agriculture provisions” in the bill, one Democratic aide said. With government funding lapsing on Sept. 30, House Democrats announced Monday they had filed the stopgap funding legislation, but they angered Republicans by leaving out some farm money that Trump wanted.

The bill generally continues current spending levels, avoiding a government shutdown when funding runs out on Sept. 30. It would give lawmakers more time to work out spending through September 2021, including budgets for military operations, healthcare, national parks, space programs, and airport and border security.

“At some point in the next day or two, we expect that there will be a continuing resolution on the floor that will continue the current spending agreement until December,” said Representative Hakeem Jeffries, chairman of the House Democratic caucus, who have the majority. He said he hoped it would be “bipartisan in nature.”

The version that House Democrats filed on Monday did not include $21.1 billion that the White House sought to replenish the Commodity Credit Corporation, a program to stabilize farm incomes, because Democrats considered it a blank check for political favors. Trump had promised more farm aid during a rally in Wisconsin last week.

Republicans protested the omission, with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell arguing that farmers need the help.

“The talks continue, and hopefully we’ll reach an agreement,” McConnell told reporters on Tuesday.

A House Republican aide said Democrats had earlier walked away from an agreement that included the farm aid.

“Republicans will continue to fight for these provisions to be included,” he said.

Leaders of both parties say they are not interested in a standoff that could lead to a government shutdown, amid a pandemic and just weeks before the Nov. 3 elections.

(Reporting by Susan Cornwell; additional reporting by Richard Cowan and David Morgan; Editing by Steve Orlofsky and Bernadette Baum)

House Democrats file bill to fund U.S. government but leave out new farm money

By Richard Cowan and Susan Cornwell

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The

By Richard Cowan and Susan Cornwell

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. Congress this week will consider legislation funding the federal government through mid-December, with lawmakers hoping to avoid the spectacle of a government shutdown amid a pandemic and just weeks before the Nov. 3 elections.

House Democrats announced Monday they had filed the legislation, which leaves out new money that President Donald Trump wanted for farmers. A Democratic aide said the bill could be on the House floor as soon as Tuesday. The Senate could then act later this week.

The new federal fiscal year starts on Oct. 1.

The bill is designed to give lawmakers more time to work out federal spending for the period through September 2021, including budgets for military operations, healthcare, national parks, space programs, and airport and border security.

The spending proposal “will avert a catastrophic shutdown in the middle of the ongoing pandemic, wildfires and hurricanes, and keep government open until December 11, when we plan to have bipartisan legislation to fund the government for this fiscal year,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said in a statement.

But the measure’s December end date will require Congress to return to the government funding question again during its post-election lame-duck session, either during or after what could be a bruising fight to confirm Trump’s third Supreme Court nominee after the death of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

And the legislation does not include $21.1 billion the White House sought to replenish the Commodity Credit Corporation, a program to stabilize farm incomes, because Democrats considered this a “blank check” for “political favors,” said a House Democratic aide who asked not to be named. Trump promised more farm aid during a rally in Wisconsin last week.

Republicans were not happy. “House Democrats’ rough draft of a government funding bill shamefully leaves out key relief and support that American farmers need. This is no time to add insult to injury and defund help for farmers and rural America,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell wrote on Twitter. Republicans could seek to amend the document to add in the provision.

The bill proposes spending $14 billion to shore up a trust fund that pays for airport improvements and air traffic control

operations. It also proposes extending surface transportation funding for another year, directing $13.6 billion to maintain current spending levels on highways and mass transit.

Pelosi said the bill would also save America’s older citizens from an increase in Medicare health insurance premiums of up to $50 per month.

Congressional Democrats have had a stormy relationship with the White House over federal funding since Trump took office early in 2017. He has sought deep cuts in domestic spending while ramping up military funds.

(Reporting by Richard Cowan and Susan Cornwell; additional reporting by David Shepardson and Doina Chiacu; Editing by Scott Malone and Steve Orlofsky)

this week will consider legislation funding the federal government through mid-December, with lawmakers hoping to avoid the spectacle of a government shutdown amid a pandemic and just weeks before the Nov. 3 elections.

House Democrats announced Monday they had filed the legislation, which leaves out new money that President Donald Trump wanted for farmers. A Democratic aide said the bill could be on the House floor as soon as Tuesday. The Senate could then act later this week.

The new federal fiscal year starts on Oct. 1.

The bill is designed to give lawmakers more time to work out federal spending for the period through September 2021, including budgets for military operations, healthcare, national parks, space programs, and airport and border security.

The spending proposal “will avert a catastrophic shutdown in the middle of the ongoing pandemic, wildfires and hurricanes, and keep government open until December 11, when we plan to have bipartisan legislation to fund the government for this fiscal year,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said in a statement.

But the measure’s December end date will require Congress to return to the government funding question again during its post-election lame-duck session, either during or after what could be a bruising fight to confirm Trump’s third Supreme Court nominee after the death of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

And the legislation does not include $21.1 billion the White House sought to replenish the Commodity Credit Corporation, a program to stabilize farm incomes, because Democrats considered this a “blank check” for “political favors,” said a House Democratic aide who asked not to be named. Trump promised more farm aid during a rally in Wisconsin last week.

Republicans were not happy. “House Democrats’ rough draft of a government funding bill shamefully leaves out key relief and support that American farmers need. This is no time to add insult to injury and defund help for farmers and rural America,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell wrote on Twitter. Republicans could seek to amend the document to add in the provision.

The bill proposes spending $14 billion to shore up a trust fund that pays for airport improvements and air traffic control

operations. It also proposes extending surface transportation funding for another year, directing $13.6 billion to maintain current spending levels on highways and mass transit.

Pelosi said the bill would also save America’s older citizens from an increase in Medicare health insurance premiums of up to $50 per month.

Congressional Democrats have had a stormy relationship with the White House over federal funding since Trump took office early in 2017. He has sought deep cuts in domestic spending while ramping up military funds.

(Reporting by Richard Cowan and Susan Cornwell; additional reporting by David Shepardson and Doina Chiacu; Editing by Scott Malone and Steve Orlofsky)

Trump EPA sides with farmers over refiners in biofuel waiver decision

By Stephanie Kelly

NEW YORK (Reuters) – The Trump administration said on Monday it rejected scores of requests from U.S. oil refiners for waivers that would have retroactively spared them from their obligation to blend biofuels like ethanol into their fuel, delivering a win for farmers and a blow to the oil industry just ahead of the November presidential election.

Reuters had reported last week that U.S. President Donald Trump, under the advice of his allies in the Midwest, ordered his Environmental Protection Agency to deny the waivers because they had become a lightning rod of controversy in the Farm Belt, an important political constituency.

“This decision follows President Trump’s promise to promote domestic biofuel production, support our nation’s farmers, and in turn strengthen our energy independence,” said EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler in a statement announcing the agency was denying 54 applications that the Department of Energy had reviewed.

Refiners say the waivers are crucial for reducing regulatory costs for small fuel producers and keeping them in business, but the corn lobby argues the exemptions undermine demand for corn-based ethanol at a time farmers are already suffering from the impacts of a trade war with China.

CONTENTION LAW

Under the U.S. Renewable Fuel Standard, refiners must blend some 15 billion gallons of ethanol into their gasoline each year or buy tradable credits from those that do. Small refiners have also been able to seek an exemption if they can prove financial harm from the requirements.

The Trump administration has roughly quadrupled the number of exemptions given out to refiners in a trend that had angered the biofuel industry.

In January, an appeals court handling a case initiated by the biofuel industry cast a cloud of doubt over the EPA’s waiver program, ruling that waivers granted to small refineries after 2010 should only be approved as extensions. Most recipients of waivers in recent years have not continuously received them.

That triggered a wave of requests for retroactive relief by refiners seeking to comply with the court decision. Since March, 17 small refineries in 14 states submitted 68 petitions, Wheeler said in a memo. The Department of Energy, which advises EPA on the waiver requests, had transmitted its findings on 54 of the petitions.

“(T)hese small refineries did not demonstrate disproportionate economic hardship from compliance with the RFS program for those RFS compliance years,” Wheeler said.

It is unclear what will happen to refining facilities that had benefited from waivers in recent years that are non-compliant with the court’s ruling. But sources told Reuters the administration may seek to offer them another form of financial relief to compensate.

It was also not immediately clear how this would affect 28 pending waiver applications for 2019 and three pending applications for 2020.

The Trump administration’s decision on Monday is a major victory for biofuel advocates in the long-standing battle between the deep-pocketed Corn and Oil lobbies.

“This is outstanding news for biofuels producers, farmers, and RFS integrity,” said Iowa Renewable Fuels Association Executive Director Monte Shaw. “With gap year waivers denied, the number of refiners eligible to even apply for – let alone receive – an RFS exemption going forward is reduced to single digits.”

Some in the oil industry criticized the decision. “EPA has turned a blind eye to merchant refineries and their workers in key battleground states like Pennsylvania, Ohio and Texas,” said the Fueling American Jobs Coalition, a group that includes union workers and independent refiners.

Trump over the weekend also tweeted that he would allow states to permit fuel retailers to use their current pumps to sell gasoline with higher blends of ethanol, or E15, a move that could help lift ethanol sales.

“Today’s announcements will help provide more certainty to our biofuel producers, who have for too-long been yanked around by the EPA, and help increase access to E15, which drives up demand for corn and ethanol,” said Iowa Senator Joni Ernst.

(Reporting by Stephanie Kelly; Editing by Dan Grebler and Marguerita Choy)

Trump says he is speeding help to farmers hurt by coronavirus dislocation

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump said on Thursday he has directed his agriculture secretary to expedite help to farmers, especially small farmers, hurt by the economic disruption caused by the new coronavirus outbreak.

On Twitter, Trump also said he expects Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue “to use all of the funds and authorities at his disposal to make sure that our food supply is stable, strong, and safe.”

Trump did not specify what he expected Perdue to do, but farmers are waiting for the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to announce how it will disburse $9.5 billion Congress set aside for the industry in the coronavirus relief bill signed by Trump last month.

Farmers are an important part of Republican Trump’s political base as he seeks re-election in November.

Also on Twitter, Perdue said the USDA “is using all financial resources we have been given to develop a program that will include direct payments to farmers & ranchers hurt by COVID-19 & other procurement methods to help solidify the supply chain from producers to consumers.”

The American Farm Bureau Federation said last week that farmers need immediate help and it urged the USDA to make special direct payments to dairy and cotton producers, livestock farmers and cattle ranchers, among others.

The group said certain sectors have been particularly hard-hit, including dairy farmers and specialty crop producers, such as vegetable and fruit farms.

(Reporting by Eric Beech; Editing by Mohammad Zargham and Grant McCool)

Canada, U.S. farms face crop losses due to foreign worker delays

By Rod Nickel and Christopher Walljasper

WINNIPEG, Manitoba/CHICAGO (Reuters) – Mandatory coronavirus quarantines of seasonal foreign workers in Canada could hurt that country’s fruit and vegetable output this year, and travel problems related to the pandemic could also leave U.S. farmers with fewer workers than usual.

Foreign labor is critical to farm production in both countries, where domestic workers shun the hard physical labor and low pay.

In Canada, where farms rely on 60,000 temporary foreign workers, their arrivals are delayed by initial border restrictions and grounded flights. Once they arrive, the federal government requires them to be isolated for 14 days with pay, unable to work.

In the United States, nearly 250,000 foreign guest workers, mostly from Mexico, help harvest fruit and vegetables each year. The State Department is processing H-2A visas for farm workers with reduced staffing, though some companies are still having a hard time getting workers in on time.

Watermelon and asparagus farmer Mike Chromczak, who is waiting for labourers to arrive and begin their mandatory quarantine against coronavirus disease (COVID-19), poses at Chromczak Farms in Brownsville, Ontario, Canada April 2, 2020. REUTERS/Carlos Osorio

Ontario farmer Mike Chromczak said he was afraid he might be unable to harvest his asparagus crop next month unless his 28 Jamaican workers start arriving by mid-April.

“It would be well over 50% of our farm’s revenue” lost, Chromczak said. “But I see it as a much bigger issue than me. This is a matter of food security for our country.”

Steve Bamford’s 35 Caribbean workers are just starting to trickle in to his Ontario apple orchards. Then they are isolated and paid for 40 hours per week during that period without touching a tree. Pruning work, a critical step to maximize yields, is now overdue.

“It’s an extreme cost. You don’t plan on bringing people in and not work for two weeks,” Bamford said.

Some Canadian farmers expect to reap smaller fruit and vegetable harvests this year if foreign labor is not available soon, said Scott Ross, director of farm policy at the Canadian Federation of Agriculture.

In the United States, “delays are potentially very hazardous to farmers who were counting on that workforce to show up at an exact period of time to harvest a perishable crop,” said Dave Puglia, CEO of Western Growers Association, which represents fruit and vegetable companies in states like California and Arizona.

He said workers in the United States do not have to wait 14 days before they start working, although more efforts are being made to space workers out on the farms.

Dannia Sanchez, president of D & J and Sons Harvesting in Florida, is awaiting approval to bring in some 200 temporary agriculture workers, while blueberries in Florida ripen and Michigan asparagus nears harvest.

Abad Hernandez Cruz, a Mexican farmworker harvesting onions in Georgia, said he is working 12 or more hours a day.

“A lot of people are missing,” he said, referring to farmworkers whose visas weren’t approved after the United States scaled back some consular activities in response to coronavirus.

“If the farm doesn’t produce, the city doesn’t eat.”

(Reporting by Rod Nickel in Winnipeg, Manitoba and Chris Walljasper in Chicago; Editing by David Gregorio)

Trump says U.S. may give farmers more money until trade deals ‘kick in’

Trump: U.S. may give farmers more aid until trade deals ‘kick in’
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The United States may give American farmers additional money until trade deals with China, Mexico, Canada and other countries fully go into effect, President Donald Trump said on Friday.

“If our formally targeted farmers need additional aid until such time as the trade deals with China, Mexico, Canada and others fully kick in, that aid will be provided by the federal government,” Trump wrote in a Twitter post entirely in capital letters.

It was not immediately clear how large the aid package would be or how long it would last.

The Trump administration set aside a $16 billion aid package to farmers in 2019, and $12 billion a year earlier. In January, Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue said farmers should not expect another bailout package in 2020.

Trump is seeking re-election in the Nov. 3 presidential election. Farmers form a key part of his electoral base, but they have been badly bruised by low commodity prices and Trump’s tit-for-tat tariff dispute with China.

The White House declined to comment. The Department of Agriculture and the U.S. Trade Representative’s office did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Last month, Trump signed a trade deal with Canada and Mexico into law, along with a separate Phase 1 accord with China that went into effect in mid-February.

Canada has not yet ratified the deal and experts had been skeptical that China, which had pledged to increase its purchases of U.S. goods by $200 billion over two years, would be able to meet the goal even before a coronavirus outbreak hit the country’s imports and exports.

(Reporting by Makini Brice; editing by Susan Heavey and Bernadette Baum)

U.S. states declare emergencies to help farmers hit by propane shortage

(Reuters) – At least eight U.S. Midwest states declared emergencies in recent weeks over regional shortages of propane needed by grain farmers to dry their crops amid a late harvest and wet weather.

Illinois, North Dakota, South Dakota, Minnesota, Nebraska, Iowa, Indiana and Wisconsin eased restrictions on the transport of propane to help alleviate the local shortages. There is no nationwide shortage and residential propane prices recently were about 22% below that of a year ago.

Spring flooding in U.S. Midwest farming states led to late harvests that have triggered a surge in demand for the fuel used to reduce moisture in corn crops to ready for sale or to safely store the grain.

“The late harvest and high demand for petroleum products throughout the Midwest have resulted in low supplies of propane as well as difficulty transporting,” according to a notice on Iowa Governor Kim Reynolds’ website.

The state’s declaration relaxes size and weight limits on vehicle transport. An earlier proclamation eased operating-hour rules on propane carriers. The latest rule, like most of the other states’ orders, is effective for a month.

Propane carriers faced four- to six-hour waits last week at the Conway, Kansas, propane terminal that is the nation’s second-largest, and drivers were facing restrictions due to the wait, one official said.

“There is plenty of propane on hand in the country,” said Greg Noll, executive vice president of Propane Marketers Association of Kansas. “We just need to get it from the points that have it on hand to the points where it is needed.”

Texas, which is home to the nation’s largest storage in Mont Belvieu, reported no emergency or shortage.

Consumers have not faced shortages because most homeowners would have had their tanks filled by now, said Noll.

Residential propane prices at the start of the U.S. heating season were under $2 a gallon, or about 22% lower than at the start of winter last year, according to government data issued on Monday.

Propane and propylene stocks were 97.6 million barrels the week ended Nov. 8, up nearly 14 million barrels from a year-ago, the U.S. Energy Information Administration reported last week. It said average wholesale propane prices in the Midwest were 78 cents a gallon excluding taxes, flat from a year earlier.

(Reporting by Arpan Varghese and Nakul Iyer in Bengaluru, Gary McWilliams in Houston; editing by Bill Berkrot)

China buys U.S. soybeans after declaring ban on American farm goods

FILE PHOTO: Soybeans fall into a bin as a trailer is filled at a farm in Buda, Illinois, U.S., July 6, 2018. REUTERS/Daniel Acker

By Tom Polansek

CHICAGO (Reuters) – China snapped up a small volume of U.S. soybeans last week after pledging to halt purchases of American farm products due to the escalating trade war between Washington and Beijing, U.S. Department of Agriculture data showed on Thursday.

The world’s largest soybean importer struck deals from Aug. 9 to 15 to buy 9,589 tonnes for delivery in the current marketing year and 66,000 tonnes, approximately one cargo, for the next year, the data showed.

China’s Commerce Ministry said on Aug. 5 that Chinese companies stopped buying U.S. farm products in the latest escalation of the trade war between the world’s two largest economies.

“You do have some buying going on,” said Arlan Suderman, chief commodities economist for INTL FCStone. “It’s a little bit of a surprise.”

China last year imposed retaliatory tariffs that remain in place on imports of U.S. farm products including soybeans and pork. The duties have slashed exports of U.S. crops and prompted the Trump administration to compensate American farmers for losses over two years with as much as $28 billion.

China said on Thursday it hopes the United States will stop a plan to impose new tariffs, adding that any new duties would lead to a further escalation.

China has largely turned to South America for soybeans since the trade war began last year. U.S. soybean sales to China in 2018 dropped 74% from the previous year.

“Compared to what they used to buy, they essentially have halted – but some have gotten through,” Suderman said.

The sales of 9,589 tonnes for delivery in the current marketing year will probably be rolled ahead to be delivered in the next year, which begins on Sept. 1, said Don Roose, president of Iowa-based broker U.S. Commodities.

The cargo sold for delivery in the next marketing year could have been in the works before Beijing said Chinese companies would suspend purchases of U.S. farm goods, said Terry Reilly, senior commodity analyst for Futures International.

“The government may have just given the green light to say, ‘Let this one go through,'” Reilly said.

“One cargo is not going to change the fact that they’re not buying millions of tons of soybeans.”

(Reporting by Tom Polansek; Editing by Marguerita Choy)

U.S. Midwest farm economy hit hard by record floods – Fed banks

FILE PHOTO: A levee breach is shown in this aerial photo, from flood damage near Bartlett, Iowa, U.S., March 29, 2019. REUTERS/Tom Polansek/File Photo

By P.J. Huffstutter

CHICAGO (Reuters) – U.S. farm incomes in the Midwest and Mid-Southern states declined yet again in the second quarter of 2019, as record floods devastated a wide swath of the Farm Belt, according to banker surveys released on Thursday by the Federal Reserve Banks of St. Louis and Kansas City.

Nearly two-thirds of the bankers surveyed by the St. Louis Fed said a majority of their farm customers were either significantly or modestly impacted by the flooding and other adverse weather earlier this year.

But in parts of the Midwest, federal trade-related aid to farmers and corn prices rising this spring due to the wet planting conditions slowed the pace of that income drop, according to bankers surveyed by the Kansas City Fed.

“These developments may have led to less pessimistic expectations about farm income in coming months,” the Kansas City Fed wrote in its survey.

The floods added more pain on farmers who have also been hurt by low crop prices and the trade war between Washington and Beijing, which has slashed shipments of U.S. agricultural products to China. The floods also battered earnings for global grain traders Cargill Inc and Archer Daniels Midland Co <ADM.N>, as heavy rains halted barge traffic on the Mississippi River, disrupted cattle shipments and caused some plants to be shuttered.

The St. Louis Fed said the second quarter marked the 22nd consecutive quarter for farm incomes dropping in the Eighth Federal Reserve District, which includes all or parts of seven Midwest and Mid-South states: Arkansas, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Mississippi, Missouri and Tennessee.

The weaker income trend is expected to continue in the third quarter, dragged down by the ongoing trade fight between the United States and China, problems with crop production and depressed commodity prices, bankers in the Eighth District said.

The flooding and extreme weather also impacted local economies in western Missouri, Kansas, Nebraska and Oklahoma, according to the Kansas City Fed’s survey. The bank’s Tenth District also includes Colorado, Wyoming and portions of northern New Mexico.

Farm household spending and farm capital expenditures also were lower for the quarter for the Eighth District, compared with a year earlier, raising concerns about potential ripple effects overall on rural communities.

But bankers there said they did expect such belt-tightening to ease in the third quarter, as farmers prepare for the fall harvest season.

(Reporting By P.J. Huffstutter in Chicago; Editing by Matthew Lewis)