Tag Archives: agricultural

Watch This Guy Try to Flatter His Way to Becoming Trump’s Ag Secretary

Mother Jones

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President-elect Donald Trump has made some mind-bending Cabinet picks, tapping a Big Oil CEO to lead foreign policy, a former pro wrestling magnate as head of the Small Business Administration, and a raunchy burger tycoon from a company with a history of worker wage disputes as head of the Labor Department. But one Cabinet slot remains open: secretary of the US Department of Agriculture, a sprawling agency with more than a $150 billion budget that directs farm and hunger policy.

Last last week, I posted an update about the chaos surrounding Trump’s USDA transition. Since I filed that piece, some fascinating new information has emerged. Here’s a rundown of why another wild-card pick might be on the way:

• During his campaign, Trump assembled a 60-plus-person band of right-wing farm state pols, agribiz flacks, and donors to serve on what he called his Agricultural Advisory Committee. Texas Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller is one its highest-profile members. On the national scene, he’s most famous for (1) unapologetically sharing fake news stories on his office’s Facebook page; (2) calling Hillary Clinton a “cunt” on on Twitter; and (3) trying to bill his state’s taxpayers for a trip to take a medical procedure called a “Jesus shot.”

In what Politico described as a “Hail Mary attempt” to assert himself as a candidate to take the USDA helm, Miller released a fulsome love letter to Trump Friday in the form of an op-ed piece. “The focus is now the golden lobby of Trump Tower, the new symbolic representation of power in America: an edifice built by sharp-edged business acumen and cold American cash rather than taxpayer dollars and political pork,” Miller opines.

At the start of the piece, Miller predicts that “not only will Donald Trump defy his critics, befuddle his opponents and become one of our greatest presidents, but he will fulfill his promise to Make America Great Again.” By the end, Miller is ready to go further: “In just over one month Donald Trump has already kept the pledge written on thousands of red caps across the America: He has already Made America Great Again.”

• Just a little over a week ago, Trump seemed close to choosing a centrist Democrat from a farm state as USDA chief—a surprisingly tame pick for this crew. It would also have been diabolically smart, because if Sen. Heidi Heitkamp (D-N.D.) could have been persuaded to take the post, it would quite likely have meant increasing the GOP majority in the Senate by one seat, since a Republican would likely have won a special election to replace her. But then Politico reported last Monday that “Trump’s closest rural advisers are trying to torpedo efforts” to appoint Heitkamp, and the post has been in limbo ever since.

Since then, the San Antonio Express News‘ Lynn Brezosky has added some excellent perspective on what happened. She got a hold of an email from one of Trump’s ag advisers, high-powered DC attorney Gary Baise. (Baise confirmed the authenticity of the email, Brezosky reports.) Baise is a significant figure in Trump World—he’s the man who takes credit for putting together the Agricultural Advisory Committee on which the above-mentioned Miller sits. Baise represents Big Ag interests for the law firm and lobbying house Olsson Frank Weeda Terman Matz, and serves as policy expert for the Heartland Institute, an oil industry-funded think tank that denies man-made climate change.

In his email, which went out to the transition team as well as members of the ag advisory group, Baise declares:

Politico just put this story out regarding the delay in selecting a USDA Secretary. All of you need to know that I have been advised that a person on the Trump transition team believes “I” have been causing problems regarding the USDA Secretary selection. I have been told indirectly to “back off”!!!! Rest assured I will not. I am speaking and reflecting you, Mr. Trump and agriculture’s best interests not some politically correct solution. President–Elect Trump did not win by being politically correct!

The “politically correct solution” he’s referring to appears to be choosing Heitkamp. Baise goes on to call for a USDA chief who “supported Mr. Trump and did not oppose him or offer lukewarm support,” and who is “not a Tom Vilsack type” (a reference to the current USDA secretary).

San Antonio Express News‘ Brezosky goes on to report that members of Trump’s advisory committee “say they had been promised a seat at the table on agricultural policy,” and Baise’s email represents their effort to promote themselves. Meanwhile, Politico reports that Charles Herbster, chairman of that committee, remains a contender to become Trump’s USDA pick. Citing a a “source close to the transition,” Politico reports that Herbster “managed to stay under the radar as he made his way to New York last week to meet with Trump transition officials,” though “he doesn’t appear to have spoken directly to the president-elect.” The news site adds:

Still, the fact Herbster was summoned to NYC suggests he remains very much in the mix. In many ways, Herbster would make sense: He’s a businessman from one of the country’s biggest farm states who was a key rural backer for the loyalty-loving Trump during the campaign. His dearth of government experience, which would likely be a detriment in any other administration, could fit into Trump’s swamp-draining pledge.

Herbster would be a fascinating drain-the-swamp pick. As I reported in August, he is a major funder of a super-PAC called Ag America, and he even sits on its steering committee. According to the money-in-politics tracker Open Secrets, he donated $60,000 to it in 2015. Other recent contributors include Monsanto, DuPont, Archer Daniels Midland, and several other agribusiness giants. He also runs a multilevel marketing operation—one of those companies like Avon, Amway, or Herbalife that sell their products to the public through a network of individual “distributors” who make money not just based on their own sales, but also from the sales of others they’ve managed to recruit. More here.

Meanwhile, as Christmas approaches, we all anxiously await word of whom our Great Leader will choose to oversee ag and hunger policy.

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Watch This Guy Try to Flatter His Way to Becoming Trump’s Ag Secretary

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For the First Time, California Is Enforcing Water Restrictions

Mother Jones

Today, California Governor Jerry Brown announced mandatory water restrictions for the first time in the state’s history. The announcement follows a drought of more than three years, which has officials worrying that Californians may have only one year of drinking water left.

The regulations require California cities to decrease water use by 25 percent, though, crucially, only requires agricultural users to report their water use and submit drought management plans. Agriculture accounts for about 80 percent of California’s water usage. (For more drought background, check out our past coverage on agricultural water use—almonds are the biggest suck—and municipal water use.)

From the press release:

The following is a summary of the executive order issued by the Governor today.

Save Water

For the first time in state history, the Governor has directed the State Water Resources Control Board to implement mandatory water reductions in cities and towns across California to reduce water usage by 25 percent. This savings amounts to approximately 1.5 million acre-feet of water over the next nine months, or nearly as much as is currently in Lake Oroville.

To save more water now, the order will also:

Replace 50 million square feet of lawns throughout the state with drought tolerant landscaping in partnership with local governments;
Direct the creation of a temporary, statewide consumer rebate program to replace old appliances with more water and energy efficient models; Require campuses, golf courses, cemeteries and other large landscapes to make significant cuts in water use; and
Prohibit new homes and developments from irrigating with potable water unless water-efficient drip irrigation systems are used, and ban watering of ornamental grass on public street medians.

Increase Enforcement

The Governor’s order calls on local water agencies to adjust their rate structures to implement conservation pricing, recognized as an effective way to realize water reductions and discourage water waste.

Agricultural water users – which have borne much of the brunt of the drought to date, with hundreds of thousands of fallowed acres, significantly reduced water allocations and thousands of farmworkers laid off – will be required to report more water use information to state regulators, increasing the state’s ability to enforce against illegal diversions and waste and unreasonable use of water under today’s order. Additionally, the Governor’s action strengthens standards for Agricultural Water Management Plans submitted by large agriculture water districts and requires small agriculture water districts to develop similar plans. These plans will help ensure that agricultural communities are prepared in case the drought extends into 2016.

Additional actions required by the order include:

Taking action against water agencies in depleted groundwater basins that have not shared data on their groundwater supplies with the state;
Updating standards for toilets and faucets and outdoor landscaping in residential communities and taking action against communities that ignore these standards; and
Making permanent monthly reporting of water usage, conservation and enforcement actions by local water suppliers.

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For the First Time, California Is Enforcing Water Restrictions

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Can farmers outsmart climate change?

Can farmers outsmart climate change?

26 Sep 2014 7:44 PM



Can farmers outsmart climate change?


Attention, farmers of the world! Here’s a question for you: How do you feed a world with 9 billion people? Furthermore, how will you do so while facing hotter seasons, droughts, weirder weather, and water shortages?

That’s a mighty tall order, but let me assure you: There is work underway to plan for this overwhelming future. It’s called climate-smart agriculture, and if you haven’t heard of it already, here’s what you need to know.

Climate-smart agriculture (CSA, not to be confused with, CSAs) is the idea that farmers — along with their friends with money and agriculture/climate science knowledge — should develop and use technologies that work with the ever-changing climate, not against it. Why? Well, to put it simply, so that climate change doesn’t completely disrupt our food system forcing us all to go hungry.

A recent article in Modern Farmer explains that up until recently, CSA was more of a philosophy than a solid plan:

Climate-smart agriculture is a sort of overview concept originally put forth in 2010 by the U.N.’s Food and Agriculture Organization … [it is] a general idea about adjusting all forms of agriculture (“farms, crops, livestock, aquaculture, and capture fisheries”) to better adapt to a changing climate.

CSA is going to be difficult to implement. It requires academic research, technology development, and the money to make it happen. But when it all comes together, CSA could help farmers deal with climate change affecting crop health and yields, move away from environmentally harmful farming practices, and learn to use less carbon-reliant technology.

Luckily, CSA is starting to gain attention. The Consultative Group of International Agricultural Research, a group of 15 scientific research centers that specialize in assisting farmers in the tropics, recently issued a statement that it would commit a 60 whopping percent of its operating budget (which is over $55 million) to develop climate-smart tools for 500 million farmers around the world. (Let’s take a moment to pause for applause.)

And here’s a shock for you: The U.S. government is starting to get on board, too! Secretary of State John Kerry and Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack recently launched the Global Alliance for Climate-Smart Agriculture, a group that promotes agriculture that reduces the impact of climate change.

This is a CSA we hope more farmers sign up for.

The other CSA: What is climate-smart agriculture?

, Modern Farmer.

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Can farmers outsmart climate change?

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We can harvest methane from cow guts. Should we?

We can harvest methane from cow guts. Should we?


Cows’ weird digestive systems, including four stomach compartments and the eternal chewing of cud, help them get the most out of their grassy diets — but it also produces a lot of methane. Controlling the methane is not easy once it gets burped or farted out of a cow’s digestive system. (Just ask the German farmers whose barn was recently blown up by a buildup of the gas.)

But now scientists have come up with a way of harvesting the climate-changing methane that they produce: by piping it directly out of their guts.

Cattle are responsible for two-thirds of the greenhouse gas emissions produced by livestock. And livestock are responsible for nearly 15 percent of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions. Cutting down on their methane emissions could help slow global warming.

So Argentinian scientists are punching holes in the sides of cattle and passing pipes through to their stomachs. The other end of the pipe goes into a bag fitted on the cow’s back. The captured gas, which is basically the same natural gas that frackers and other drillers mine out of the ground, can be burned to produce energy. That releases carbon dioxide into the atmosphere instead of the methane, which is a far more potent greenhouse gas.

The scientists have been developing the idea for more than five years, but they have received a burst of publicity following a Reuters article and a BBC report. “We believe that today it could be used in areas where conventional energies are not available,” Guillermo Berra of the National Institute of Agricultural Technology told the British broadcaster, speaking in Spanish. “We could have these animals produce, for example, the gas that you need for a refrigerator. A 100-liter capacity fridge can run … by the gas produced by one cow.”

Worried about how this makes the cows feel? The scientists say it’s harmless; they basically use body piercing technology. For cows that are increasingly being subjected to gruesome factory farming conditions, it would seem to be just one more inconvenience in an already brutal existence.

Scientists harness cows’ ‘burp-power’ as alternative energy, BBC

John Upton is a science fan and green news boffin who tweets, posts articles to Facebook, and blogs about ecology. He welcomes reader questions, tips, and incoherent rants: johnupton@gmail.com.

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