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January 2014 Archive for John Block Reports from Washington

RSS By: John Block, AgWeb.com

John Block has dedicated his professional career to the fields of agriculture, food and health.

China Rejects Our Corn

Jan 16, 2014

As complex as the world trading system has become, it still relies on something as simple as trust. Basically, it requires that those who enter into mutually agreed contracts will abide by the terms of those contracts. Unfortunately, in the last two months China has chosen to break their contracts.

Several shipments of corn that China contracted for months ago have been rejected. Their reason is that they found that the shipments had traces of Viptera® corn. Viptera corn is genetically modified to withstand insect infestation. It is planted on about 10% of our corn acres.

That corn, along with other corn, is all mixed together at our grain elevators. 90% of our corn is GE corn. The Chinese have been accepting our corn shipments year after year without any complaint. They are accepting corn from Argentina and Brazil with the Viptera trait.

So, what is going on here? China has for years been a very big and reliable market for our corn. They accept all kinds of GE grain and agree that it is safe. However, they say they have not as yet approved the Viptera trait. All of a sudden, they have closed the door.

One obvious reason might be that they think they paid too much for the corn. They booked it last year when corn was at least $2 per bushel higher than it is now. Another reason might be that they must want to punish us a little for siding with the Japanese in an island dispute between Japan and China. We can only speculate. However, this dispute needs to be resolved. Losing the Chinese corn market has helped to drive down our corn prices.

There is one other inconsistency with the Chinese embargo on our corn. They still import our distillers dried grain, and that dried grain has a small percentage of the corn trait that they have rejected.

Secretary of Agriculture Vilsack was recently in China and pushed to open the trade door, but we’re still shut out.


OSHA Strikes Again

Jan 09, 2014

You can’t make it up. It’s real. OSHA is after us again. They are so creative. I got my details on this latest regulatory overreach from last Thursday’s Wall Street Journal and former Secretary of Agriculture Mike Johanns.

"Since the 1970s annual federal appropriations bills have explicitly prohibited the federal workplace overseer from descending on small family farms. It says – OSHA does not have jurisdiction over farming operations with 10 or fewer employees." Is that clear?

However, OSHA decided to classify family farms as commercial grain handlers. They think that should give them the authority to regulate the grain storage facility.

Secretary Johanns called this action "absurd – a violation of the law." From my perspective, I am shocked. I guess I should not be surprised. My farm fits their definition. We have grain storage. We have less than 10 employees and it’s a family farm.

Former Ag Secretary Johanns is a Senator from Nebraska now.

OSHA recently fined a small Nebraska farm $130,000. For what? No one was hurt. I guess their farm didn’t "have a written plan to control fugitive grain dust" in their grain storage bins. Since the case is still being litigated, OSHA says they can’t comment.

Another example is a father-and-son farming operation in Ohio with 1 employee. An OSHA inspector showed up on their farm and began pressing them, questioning them. After the Ohio farm contested OSHA’s claims, OSHA withdrew all citations against the farm.

Maybe OSHA will come to realize that agriculture is not going to take this kind of unlawful overreach laying down. We need to stand our ground.

This is a growing problem for agriculture and other industries. In the first place, President Obama’s agenda is to regulate more. "Government knows best." And second, it is not surprising that regulatory agencies will look for more things to regulate anyway. That’s how they justify their existence. The best solution is to cut their budget. Take their money away.


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