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GAO recommends improved oversight of commodity checkoffs

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The U.S. General Accountability Office is calling on USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service to improve the oversight of commodity checkoff programs. GAO reviewed eight of the 22 federal checkoff programs.

GAO found that AMS needs a more consistent and better review of subcontracts to ensure the proper use of funds. Checkoff programs need greater transparency by posting all key documents, including budget summaries and evaluations of effectiveness with stakeholders on program websites.

The report says the independent economic evaluations looking at the effectiveness of the programs have shown positive financial benefits. However, the methodology used to evaluate the effectiveness of the checkoff programs differs across the programs and makes it difficult to compare. Of the eight checkoff programs reviewed, “benefits ranged from an average of $2.14 (for fluid milk) to $17.40 (for pork) for every dollar invested.”

Of the 22 checkoffs, the range in assessment revenue in 2016 went from $332.1 million for dairy to popcorn at $600,000. Pork had an assessment revenue of $70.3 million.

Delay implementation of electronic logging devices for livestock haulers
A group of 20 bipartisan Senators sent a letter to the Senate leadership calling for a delay in the implementation of electronic logging devices for commercial motor vehicles transporting livestock. The letter organized by Sens. Jerry Moran (R-KS) and Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND) asks the Senate leadership to support including in the final Fiscal Year 2018 Transportation, Housing and Urban Development appropriations bill the House provision that would delay implementation of ELDs and provide the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Association more time to review the needs of agriculture. This would give the FMSCA time to make the necessary adjustments to hours of service rules to address animal welfare concerns. A similar letter in the House of Representatives was signed by 67 Congressmen.

The Senators say, “These animals must be transported hundreds and even thousands of miles to their final destinations in a safe and humane manner. Long distance transportation is often the most stressful event in a livestock animal’s life and it is impractical and inhumane to stop, offload multiples times, or significantly delay delivery of these animals.”

The National Pork Producers Council has argued the requirement could have a negative effect on “animal well-being and that it is incompatible with DOT’s Hours of Service rules.” The DOT rules limit truckers to 11 hours of driving daily, after 10 consecutive hours off duty, and restrict their on-duty time to 14 consecutive hours, which includes non-driving time.

In November, the FMCSA allowed a 90-day waiver to exempt truck drivers hauling agriculture commodities from the Dec. 18 ELD implementation deadline.

Number of key USDA positions still unfilled
As 2017 draws to an end there are still a number of key positions that are not filled at the USDA. Besides Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue, there are only three key positions confirmed and in place — Steve Censky, deputy secretary; Ted McKinney, undersecretary for Trade and Foreign Agricultural Services; and Greg Ibach, undersecretary for Marketing and Regulatory Programs.

The Senate Agriculture Committee has approved the nomination of Steve Varden as general counsel, but he still needs Senate confirmation. The White House has yet to announce the nominees for undersecretary of Food Safety, Natural Resources, Nutrition and Consumer Services, and Research, Economics and Education. Bill Northey’s nomination as undersecretary of Farm Production and Conservation has been approved by the Senate Agriculture Committee, but Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) has placed a hold on the nomination because of the administration’s position on the Renewable Fuels Standard.

Republicans reach agreement on the tax bill
The Republican House and Senate leadership announced they have reached an agreement on the tax bill but were still working on various details last night. They plan to vote on it next week so it can be on the president’s desk prior to Christmas.

Details are slowly being released but what is known as of now is the estate tax will not be eliminated but the exemption will be doubled; the corporate tax bill be at 21% effective Jan. 1; top individual rate of 37%; and allow deduction of state and local taxes, including income and property taxes, up to $10,000.

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