From ports of trade to the halls of justice, farm state interests often are buffeted by decisions reached far from the back 40.
The U.S. Supreme Court, for example, will decide on Monday whether to hear challenges to the beef and pork checkoff programs. Both have been found in lower court rulings to be unconstitutional. And talks on liberalizing global trade resumed on Friday, with both the U.S. and European Union saying they're ready to cut farm subsidies to move the talks forward.
On the homefront, regulatory decisions also can impact agribusiness, as farmers who drive diesel-powered tractors learned this week.
The Environmental Protection Agency announced regulations this week that will cut diesel emissions by more than 90 percent over the next eight years. The rule will decrease pollution from diesel-powered farming and construction equipment and other off-road machinery, as well as make sharp reductions in pollution from large ships and locomotives. Currently, there are more than six million pieces of equipment in operation that fall into one of these categories.
Off-road machinery and vehicles used in construction, farming, industrial practices and at airports account for a quarter of all the smog-causing nitrogen oxide and nearly half of the fine soot from mobile sources. Soot and smog are blamed for increases in respiratory illnesses and thousands of premature deaths annually. Children, the elderly and people suffering from asthma are especially vulnerable.
Under the new EPA rule, refiners will have to nearly eliminate sulfur in diesel fuel by 2012. The low-sulfur fuel requirements will make it possible for manufacturers to build cleaner diesel engines.
The law is expected to raise new-equipment costs by 1 to 3 percent. Eventually, it's estimated to add 4 cents a gallon to diesel pump prices. EPA claims the machinery farmers now use will be able to burn the new fuel and that no one will be forced to replace diesel-burning vehicles because of the limits. The new standards are set to take effect between 2008 and 2015.