As another year enters the history books, Penton Agriculture is taking a second look at the issues that dominated agriculture news in 2015. Click the links below to read more about each issue.
Tax reform/Section 179
As the books closed on 2014, Congress barely managed to pass temporary higher section 179 levels. This year, farmers saw quicker action on the issue, but alas, stagnation. Congress did eventually come through with permanent higher section 179 levels and bonus depreciation on Dec. 18, though that was too late for many farmers to make key purchasing decisions. There's always next year – really!
Country of Origin Labeling
After ruling against Country-of-Origin Labeling in late 2014, the World Trade Organization in 2015 approved retaliatory tariffs for Canada and Mexico as U.S. lawmakers debated the merits of COOL. Ultimately, the same omnibus bill that brought permanent action on section 179 also included a repeal provision that effectively halted retaliation from U.S. neighbors to the north and south.
Waters of the U.S.
With a proposal on the table in early 2014 and public comment heard, EPA moved towards finalizing the Waters of the U.S. rule with a final rule released in May. Of course, opposition from several major farm groups did force the agency to withdraw an interpretive rule that accompanied WOTUS in February, though the full rule moved forward. In August, a 13-state injunction was granted to stop the rule from taking effect, though states outside the lawsuit remained under the rule. While some Congress members continued their efforts to eliminate the rule throughout the year, additional information surfaced regarding EPA's use of social media to promote the comment period and the Army Corps of Engineers' opinions on the rule before it was finalized. As for a resolution on the rule? Well, there isn't one. Yet.
Deals and mergers
Several mergers and purchases rocked the agriculture boat in 2015, including an agreement that John Deere would acquire Precision Planting LLC from Monsanto Company in November, as well as another late-year merger announcement from Dow AgroSciences and DuPont. While talks fizzled between Monsanto and Syngenta over the summer, there was plenty to keep the rumor mill going – including an exclusive interview with Monsanto COO Brett Begemann and video response from Syngenta Board of Directors Chairman Michael Demaré. In other news, the American Meat Institute and North American Meat Association finalized their merger on Jan. 1, 2015, and two key Midwest companies' crop inputs businesses – Land O'Lakes and United Suppliers – became one.
What's arguably the hottest ag tech topic now? Unmanned aerial vehicles. Or drones. Or unmanned aircraft systems. Whatever you call them, the Federal Aviation Administration says it's working on ways to make sure they're operated safely and within federal rules. But those federal rules are causing a problem – what's legal and what's not? FAA says it hopes to have those regulations out soon, but in the meantime, the agency has developed a mandatory registration system for all UAV operators.
Many farmers are excited about new herbicide technologies, including Dow AgroSciences' Enlist Duo offering. But there's a chance that could be derailed as EPA has asked for more data on the product. Meanwhile, farmers will be studying up on how to best use new chemistries.
Just when swine farmers got ahead of PEDV – a big story in 2014 – poultry farmers begin to deal with their equivalent, avian flu. What kicked off as a disease affecting wild flocks soon moved into commercial poultry barns and ultimately ended in thousands of lost animals and canceled poultry exhibitions. Over the summer, USDA Secretary Vilsack said the agency was in position to counter an avian flu outbreak with new vaccines, should it occur in the fall. Luckily, many flocks had successfully recovered heading into the winter.
Trans-Pacific Partnership/Trade Promotion Authority
In June, many in the ag industry lauded a long-awaited Trade Promotion Authority renewal, what many saw as a path to new trade agreements. Later, in October, negotiators on the Trans Pacific Partnership shocked trade watchers when they announced an agreed-upon Trans-Pacific Partnership. In November, when the document was signed, ag reacted both positively and negatively.
On time, this time, EPA released final volume obligations for the Renewable Fuel Standard in November after a lengthy comment period over the summer. The final levels were higher than those in the June, but ethanol supporters said they still weren't high enough (they failed to meet statutory levels), while ethanol critics suggested lower would be better.
Yes, the top story that likely won't stop being a top story any time soon. In 2015, a previously released bill that provided framework for a national label for food from GM ingredients was entertained again, and approved by the House. But on the Senate side, action has been more discussion, fewer votes. As Vermont readies itself to become the first state with a mandatory GMO label in July, 2016, labeling is a tough subject that could get tougher.
West Coast port situation
In early 2015, a long-running labor dispute between International Longshore and Warehouse Union workers and Pacific Maritime Association shippers came to a head as the West Coast workers shut down operations and ultimately required the services of the U.S. Labor Secretary to straighten things out. That's after the U.S. meat industry started to feel the effects of the slowdown; about 78% of ocean-bound meat exports exit the United States through West Coast ports, according to the U.S. Meat Export Federation.