David Rogers reported yesterday at Politico that, “The knives are out for the new farm bill even before next Tuesday’s deadline for producers to sign up with the Agriculture Department for the first commodity support payments due in October.
“A spate of recent forecasts shows that costs will be higher than predicted given the drop in grain prices. But in the rush to judgment, one cardinal rule still applies: As thickheaded as the farm lobby can be, its critics are often thicker.
“The Environmental Working Group has asserted that corn growers in most counties of Ohio, Iowa, Minnesota and Kansas will cash in on payouts of $60 to $200 an acre. The Washington Post editorial page picked up on this number and came down hard: ‘Like so many of its predecessors, the 2014 farm bill promised cheaper, more efficient federal agricultural policy, but delivered the opposite.’”
Mr. Rogers explained that, “But when POLITICO went back and looked at the farm bill numbers, the picture that emerged was very different.”
House Ag Committee Chairman Mike Conaway (R., Tex.) was a guest on Thursday’s AgriTalk radio program; the conversation with Mike Adams focused on the Farm Bill and trade.
This is an unofficial FarmPolicy.com transcript of their discussion.
Mr. Adams: Welcome back to AgriTalk. Yesterday, here in Washington, D.C., had a chance to talk a number of issues with the Chairman of the House Agriculture Committee, Congressman Mike Conaway from Texas.
Let’s get right into it. Questions about the farm bill. Some have even questioned would the farm bill get reopened. Any chance of that happening?
Rep. Conaway: Well, you can never say any chance, but over my dead body. [Laughter.] No, we’re not interested in opening it. You know, the ink’s hardly dry. You producers are going through the agony of all those choices that we bragged about this time last year that we’re going to give you, that you could tailor the safety net for exactly your own farming operation, it wasn’t going to be one-size-fits all—yep, yep, yep.
And now that you got it, it’s like, oh my goodness, this is hard. But anyway, so…you’re just now in that first round of doing that, and it’s not even fully implemented yet, so we’ll fight off any attempt to do that, including attempts during the ag approps process to do anything, to do damage to our process.
You know, the whole appropriations process, it’s a pretty arrogant group that— including myself who used to come down there and do that—you come [tricky] trotting onto the floor, you’ve got a great amendment to strip something out, and it’s very disrespectful to the authorizing committees who’ve spent months or whatever trying to learn and get the policies just right, and then to come in and try to strip something out.
So we’re going to fight off all of those crop insurance issues and other things that might come up here in the ag approps process, but we won’t open the farm bill, certainly not…I’m not going to do anything that would do that, so the answer is—the short answer is no. But again, you never say never. Something might happen, but it’ll be over my dead body.
Mr. Adams: All right. Let’s go to trade. A lot of talk about Trade Promotion Authority. Where does that stand? What are the chances that’s going to get passed in Congress?
Rep. Conaway: Well, if we’re going to do a trade deal on TPP or T-TIP, either one of those, we have to have TPA. And there’s a lot of misinformation. We don’t typically be partisan in this room, but there are a lot of folks on our side of the aisle that are not interested in doing anything to help President Obama, and it’s misguided as to what Trade Promotion Authority does or doesn’t do. As you sit and talk to them and help them understand that right now the President has unfettered negotiating authority, just like he is with Iran, and Trade Promotion Authority brings him into a set playing field to say how he’s going to negotiate, how he’s going to work with Congress over that, and at the end of the day, we still get the up or down vote on the deal. So it’s vital that we get it done.
It actually hems up the President and narrows down what he could or couldn’t do, and it goes the direction folks want. We’ve just got a bad name for it. So maybe we need to name it, I don’t know, something different that—better be careful there—something different that just is not as counterintuitive to what you think they’re doing.
I sat the day before yesterday with a member who’s been here a long time, and I asked him, I said, so kind of where are you on TPA? He said oh no, I’m not going to give this President any whatever. I said, well, take a deep breath. So I walked him through the mechanics of it and he goes, oh, well I’m for that. So it’s a matter of educating. We’ve got to educate not only members, but educate their supporters and their constituents. Got a lot of folks back home who feel the same way that their member does, and so it’s going to take an educational process.
I met with the Canadians today. They’re not going to sign fully onto TPP unless we have Trade Promotion Authority. Think about the mechanics. What we’re asking them to do without TPA is to sign a deal, negotiate a deal with all these other countries, get the best deal they can, and then send it to Congress, where 535 individuals can amend the deal, can change it. Well, none of you would put yourself in that circumstance, so Canada and Japan, they’re going to wait. I mean, they’re not going to come on board until we get TPA done, and they know that once they make a deal with Froman, then he can bring that deal to Congress for an up or down vote, and that makes the most sense.
So in the mean time we’re losing trade opportunities. Bilateral deals are being done that undermine our negotiating positions with respect to the current TPP negotiations, so time is of the essence. I know in my conversations with Paul Ryan, he’s ready to go. There’s some conversations with the leadership of the Senate as to how mechanically they want to do. They’re still trying to decide does the House go first, they go first. All those kind of questions are being bandied around. But time is of the essence, because we need to get this done.
Mr. Adams: Do you get the sense there are the votes to pass TPA or not?
Rep. Conaway: Well, we’re going through the whip exercise right now. There’s a group of us that already know how we want to vote, and we’re working with our other members across. Pete Sessions is kind of heading that up, and I’ve not talked to Pete about the numbers. But the folks I’ve talked to, I’ve got great responses, and I think we’ll get there.
Mr. Adams: From what you’ve seen and heard of the TPP deal, are you satisfied that we’re being protected, especially agriculture? I know there are concerns about what is Japan willing or not willing to do. Are you happy with what you’re hearing so far?
Rep. Conaway: Well, I’m happy with what I’m hearing from you producers and your groups. Michael Froman, the trade rep, I think is doing a good job. He’s listening to you. You’re engaged with him. And so the mechanics of how that’s coming together, I don’t know any of the details of the actual trade deal itself that’s being talked about, but I do know that he’s working with the trade associations and the various producer groups and others as he negotiates the ag pieces of what’s going on, so I’ve got confidence in the process.
I’ve met multiple times with Michael Froman. In fact the first meeting that I had for the full committee was a briefing with Michael Froman on trade for all of our members, because it’s a big deal and many of our members have not voted on any trade deals yet, and I wanted them to have the facts before they’re confronted with folks who don’t know the facts, but are really sold out on their position, and try to sway them one way or the other. So actually, our first group gathering as the Ag Committee under my leadership was with Michael Froman on this deal.
So again, don’t know the specifics about what’s being traded where and when, but I am pleased with what I’m hearing, both from him saying I’m listening to those guys when I have a particular section that I’m trying to negotiate, and I’m talking to them [as going], and then on the back side, when I talk to the producer groups, they’re saying the same thing—yep, we’re talking to Froman, we’re involved. And that’s to your credit, because previous trade deals, you could argue that ag got thrown under the bus a little bit.
And almost from the start, when I began hearing from all of you is that that’s not going to happen again, we’re going to be engaged in the process, we’re going to be at the table, and we’re going to get our interests represented much better than we’ve done in the past. So that’s a real credit to collectively everybody who’s been involved in that process and making that happen over the last, you know, two or three years, whenever this TPP’s been coming together. You’ve done a better job of inserting yourself into the conversation.
Mr. Adams: On the topic of trade, are you supportive of opening up trade with Cuba?
Rep. Conaway: Not at this time. And I think we need the Castro boys to meet their maker and, you know, all the other…there’s good arguments for why you do that. I’m… But all those other countries that we’ve fought and had disagreements with, and then reestablished relationships with, we’ve done it with a new regime, at least some different face. It is inevitable that we will open up and reestablish full out diplomatic relations with Cuba.
I think where we are right now, we have some leverage. We should use that leverage to try to push on certain human rights issues and democracy issues within Cuba that’s not going to happen on its own. And we’re squandering that leverage, in my view, to get some things done that would make the lives of everyday Cubans better. What we will do in the interim is make the lives of the thugs and the folks who run that country, their lives will be improved, their cash flows will be better, etc., etc. This argument that if we just had Americans coming down there as tourists, that things would be so much better, that democracy would break out and we’d have elections and all this kind of stuff, Canadians and Europeans have been going to Cuba for a long, long time, and that hasn’t had one whit of a difference.
The last time I was there, I went to Cuba on a group with nine other members, and it was one of those wonderful experiences where we’d go to the head of the Communist Party to meet with him, and either Greg Meeks or one of the others would say, you know, so-and-so, there are nine of us on this trip who are in favor of full out open trade with Cuba, and one of them is not, and it’s Conaway. And so I got thrown under the bus at every one of those meetings.
But at the end of the deal we had a big press conference, and I was last to speak, and I said, you know, a regime that is afraid to let its people see the Major League box scores, baseball box scores each day, they restrict the amount of information that comes in, including box scores, if you’re so terrified of letting your people know that the box scores, that those Cubans who have defected that are playing good baseball, and that you might find that the folks back home might find that out, that’s a regime that I’m not sure we’re ready to deal with.
So we’ve got some leverage, it’s inevitable. I am in favor of lifting any kind of trade restrictions with respect to agricultural products. If you want to make a deal with Cuba, and you want to trust that you’ll get paid, that’s your business. I disagreed with President Bush on requiring the cash to be in your pocket before the goods could leave U.S. ports. That’s a business deal that the ag folks should be making, and so that part of it I’m good with. But overall, we need to use what little leverage we have left to try to make things a little bit better in Cuba.
Mr. Adams: We’ve got just about a minute left, but I have to ask you this question. I’ve been to Cuba, too. To me it’s hypocritical if you—I understand all the things you just said, but yet we trade with China. And it seems to me like we’re saying well, if Cuba was bigger and bought more from us, we could overlook some of those things like we do with China. What’s the difference between the two other than the size?
Rep. Conaway: Ninety miles.
Mr. Adams: I mean, they’re not a threat to us.
Rep. Conaway: Not a threat to us. But we have leverage. We have a responsibility to use that leverage where we can. It’s not likely that our leverage with China would work, but I think our leverage with Cuba would work, and we’ve got an opportunity to be a proponent of helping the lives of ordinary, everyday Cubans be better. But it’s inevitable that we’ll open up full trade with Cuba at some point in time.
Mr. Adams: Chairman of the House Agriculture Committee, Mike Conaway.
Senator Marco Rubio (R., Fla) was a guest on Thursday’s AgriTalk radio program with Mike Adams, where the conversation focused on immigration, trade, and regulation.
This is an unofficial FarmPolicy.com transcript of their discussion.
Mr. Adams: Welcome back to AgriTalk here in Washington, D.C. Yesterday I had the opportunity to talk with Florida Senator Marco Rubio. We had an exchange back and forth, difference of opinion on Cuba. We also talked a number of ag issues. But I started off asking Senator Rubio does he have any plans, any announcements coming about possibly running for President.
I have to start off—I mean, you’ve got a great setting here, this is going to be on the radio—we keep a pretty good secret. We wouldn’t let it get out of this room. Do you want to make any announcements while you’re here?
Sen. Rubio: Yes, I do. I do. I saved a bunch of money by switching to Geico. [Laughter.] That’s actually not true, I’m still on State Farm, but I thought it was funny, you know. [Laughter.]
Mr. Adams: Be careful Brian Williams, in how you tell your stories now, okay? We don’t want you to get in trouble. Well, we’re so glad that you are with us. And let’s just talk for a little bit and then we’ll open it up to the audience. We just heard from Chairman Conaway his thoughts on how we can address the immigration issue. I know you’re very involved in this.
We look at it in this group, I think, two different ways. Obviously we want to get some kind of resolution nationally, but there’s also the ag labor component to this we’re trying to get resolved as well. How do we approach it? Does it have to be all or nothing or can it be piece by piece?
Sen. Rubio: Well, a couple points. First of all, it’s a critical issue with regards to workforce, and that’s true all over the country. Virtually, there’s no sector—there are some mechanized sectors in agriculture, but by and large agriculture is reliant upon labor. And I’ve actually met some of these folks, both in Florida and in other parts of the country, in South Carolina very recently, in a peach operation, that are dealing with labor problems.
We need a reliable system that allows us to bring to this country, on a seasonal or year-round basis, temporary workers who want to work in agriculture, but do not want to be here permanently—and those are millions of people. And there’s a recognition of that in this country. I think there is a broad recognition of that, that we need to address that. The problem is that it has been wrapped up in the broader issue of immigration, which is much more complex.
Now I would start by saying there’s a significant amount of people in this country illegally who quite frankly never want to be citizens, do not want to be permanent residents, they just want to work for nine months out of the year, or six months, or eight months, they want to go back home for a period of time, and they want to come back again next year when their labor is needed. But they’re afraid to leave because if they do, they’re going to have to sneak back in again next year, so they stay. Because again, we don’t have a cost effective program that works for every part of agriculture, and that has to be fixed.
I personally worked on negotiating the differences out there between different ag groups across the country, those who represent farm workers, on a program as part of the comprehensive approach. But the lesson of 2013 and our efforts is that you’re not going to be able to deal with something like immigration in one massive piece of legislation. And the primary reason for it is because there is the belief in this country, increasingly, rightfully so, that any massive piece of legislation will never follow through on the enforcement pieces.
And so if you do something to deal with ten million people that are here illegally, unless you enforce the law, you’re going to have ten million more a decade from now, and people aren’t prepared to do that. So I think the key to doing anything on immigration is to prove to the American people that we’re serious about enforcing our immigration laws, but as part of that, one of the things that would really relieve the pressure is to have a system that allows people to come here legally and work when their labor is necessary, and return back to their home country, and return again in the future if their labor is needed again, as it will be. And so I do have hope that we can deal with that.
And if we were only dealing with that issue, I think we could make tremendous progress. The problem has been that many advocates for immigration reform want it all or nothing, because they’re afraid that the minute agriculture gets what it wants, it will stop lobbying on behalf of immigration reform; the day technology companies get what they want, they’ll stop lobbying, and so forth, so they want to hold everyone together as a coalition, and that’s been the impediment.
Mr. Adams: The next topic—and I assume you and I are probably going to disagree on this—I just disagreed with Chairman Conaway, so…
Sen. Rubio: Yeah, okay.
Mr. Adams: Let’s talk Cuba. The President’s pushing to open up Cuba. Agriculture groups want to do more trade with Cuba. How do you feel about it?
Sen. Rubio: Well, first of all, there are agricultural goods that are allowed to be sold in Cuba, but they’re not allowed to do it on credit, and there’s a reason why: they don’t pay. And that’s a big problem. The second point I would make is the following. My interest in Cuba—this is my only interest in Cuba. I want Cubans to be free in a democracy.
I believe, in addition to my personal connection to the issue, I believe it is bad for the national security of the United States to have an anti-American dictatorship 90 miles from our shores. I’ll support any policy towards Cuba that achieves that goal.
I do not believe that a unilateral opening to Cuba will achieve that goal, for the following reason: there is no such thing as the Cuban economy. The entire Cuban economy is owned by the Cuban government, primarily the Cuban military, through a holding company by the name of GAESA, G-A-E-S-A. They own everything. They own the hotels, they own the farms, they own everything.
To do business with Cuba requires you to do business with the military dictatorship. And doing business with them is not a two-way street. It is they will pick and choose who they allow in, what they allow in on their terms, and they will not allow anything in that could provide any sort of democratic opening on the island, which is what I primarily care about in terms of the future of the Cuban people.
And that’s my concern, that you’re going to have a leadership transition, because the actuarial tables tell you that the current leaders, who are all over 80 something years of age, will not be there forever. And I want us to have leverage to be able to say if you want a better relationship with the United States, we need to see these things: we need to see independent political parties, we need to see the ability of people to organize themselves and speak openly, and have freedom of the press, and so forth. If you give these things away without any of those openings, what leverage do you have in the future for that?
And here’s one more point I would make. Every single piece of farmland in Cuba today, every major agricultural property in Cuba today was once owned by a private owner, including American companies. They were stolen. They were confiscated. There’s $7 billion worth of American claims on the island of Cuba that we were never compensated for.
If you allow the import—this is the reverse of perhaps what the farm bureaus around the country want—if you allow the import of agricultural goods from Cuba to the United States, you are allowing them to traffic in stolen goods. They stole someone’s farm, they stole someone’s equipment, and they’re now going to make a profit off what they stole without compensating, including American companies—United Fruit Company—but also individuals.
You know, my family comes from a farming background in Cuba. They weren’t landowners, they were sharecroppers. They grew tobacco. But that property today is completely in the control of the Cuban government. There’s no profit motive. That’s why Cuban cigars are no longer any good. But the point being that that’s a factor that no one’s talking about. There are $7 billion worth of claims that are completely uncompensated.
Imagine if someone came in and stole your farm and 15 years later, they are growing crops on that farm and selling it to the country you went to for a profit, using the things you…your land, your equipment, what you invested in. That’s another part of it we haven’t discussed.
Mr. Adams: In case you do have aspirations for another job somewhere down the line, what would you say to agriculture? Many in agriculture and other parts of the country not really familiar with you or your policies or what you would push for if you got that new job. What can you tell this group about your ag positions?
Sen. Rubio: Well, first of all, as I said, I have a family connection. My grandfather was the single greatest influence on my life growing up, and it all entailed…you know, he was one of 17 children. Was a labor program, I guess, that they were undergoing, but… [Laughter.] He was the only one that couldn’t work on the [field]. He had polio when he was six years old, so he actually went out and learned how to read and write, and struggled because he was disabled from polio.
But nevertheless, Florida is an enormous agriculture state. People associate Florida with real estate, no income tax, and Walt Disney World. All are great—and beaches. But we have an enormous ag component. And it’s one that’s endangered by a number of things.
First of all, by unfair trade practices that we see, whether it’s dumping of tomatoes from Mexico or some of the other issues. But the other issue we’ve really begun to face is both environmental regulations from the EPA—we had a [numeric] nutrient content fight a year ago where they basically tried to come in and impose standards that would make the water even cleaner than what comes out of your tap, in some instances, on agriculture.
And the other threat we face is invasive species. And in particular we’re having a problem now—we’ve got a [canker] problem in Florida that almost wiped out the citrus industry, and now we have a greening problem that actually—the canker ruined the fruit, the greening destroys the trees.
And the problem with losing agriculture is when you lose agricultural land and it becomes developable now because it becomes the highest, best use, you can never get it back. Once someone builds a multifamily housing complex on a piece of agricultural land, you can never come back ten years later and turn it back into farming. And that’s a major problem. You lose the capacity to grow food and to feed your people.
We take that for granted in the United States. We have a lot of people in this country that, when you ask them where does food come from, they’ll say the supermarket. They don’t realize that someone had to grow it. And we take for granted that we have a plethora of food and that we have it in what’s basically still affordable in comparison to the rest of the world, although prices have gone up a little bit, but not necessarily because of agriculture’s fault. And we take that for granted. Food security is even more important than energy security in terms of the future of our country. And if you lose the capacity to feed your people, not to mention export and provide products to others, you lose a major component of your economy.
So what are the threats from government in that regard? The first, of course, is these environmental regulations. The second, for example, is the interpretation of existing law from regulatory agencies like the Waters of the United States issue that we’re trying to address in the budget.
And the third role government can play is with basic research. This greening issue, as I pointed out, is something that the University of Florida, through a program called [IFAS], has been doing round the clock research to try to fix. If we don’t fix that issue, it is not unforeseeable that in less than a decade we will have no Florida citrus left. That, to me, is unimaginable for a state so identified with oranges and grapefruits.
And last is I think it’s important for us to open up free and fair trade with allies and partners around the world. It has to be on terms that are fair. So I believe in the Trans-Pacific Partnership, but that means that we need to have a deal with Japan that allows us to sell beef and other products into their markets. I think it’s important for these deals. It’s good for us to have millions of people around the world that can afford to buy what we grow, millions of people in the consumer class.
But it has to be on terms that are fair to the American agriculture sector, because I can tell you many of our agricultural products have to compete against other nations that heavily subsidize their industries and have zero environmental or labor regulations over their head compared to ours. And if they can undercut our growers, wipe them out, put them out of business, they then control the global market and can charge us anything they want, and as I said, we lose the growing capacity.
Mr. Adams: See, he can talk ag. There we go. All right. [Applause.]
Senator Amy Klobuchar (D., Minn.) was a guest on Thursday’s AgriTalk radio program with Mike Adams, where the conversation focused on the Farm Bill, trade, and the proposed Waters of the U.S. rule from EPA.
This is an unofficial FarmPolicy.com transcript of their discussion.
Mr. Adams: And welcome back to AgriTalk. As we continue with our conversations with members of Congress, we’re happy to have Minnesota Senator Amy Klobuchar with us. Senator, thanks for taking time. I know it’s a busy time with the budget bill. Give us your thoughts on it.
Sen. Klobuchar: Well, you know, we’re not going to agree on everything, that’s for sure. These budget bills can kind of be both sides fighting it out. But I think in the end what’s important is that we try to work on things where we can find common ground. Certainly that happened with the farm bill. Now I think it’s happening with the implementation of the farm bill.
Senator Roberts and Senator Stabenow working together have had some good hearings, and that appears to be going as smoothly as it can. We’ve got that new program and choices people have to make by the end of March, so that’s where a lot of focus I’ve had on is that, and then trying to do what we can to open up markets for our farmers. Minnesota is one of the top five states for exports of ag products, and we’re really proud of that. We want to keep that up.
Mr. Adams: Good, because I’m hearing resistance from [the Senate].
Sen. Klobuchar: Oh, yeah.
Mr. Adams: How are you doing on getting that through?
Sen. Klobuchar: Well, I already have three Republicans with me, Senator Flake and Senator Enzi of Wyoming, and then Senator Paul. And then we have some pretty big Democrats on it—Senator Stabenow, the ranking on the Ag Committee, and Senator Durbin, Senator Leahy. So we are pretty excited about the authors that we have. I went to Cuba a few weeks ago with Senator Warner and McCaskill. I was amazed at all the possibility there. Went out to part of the rural areas and see the big possibilities out there as well as people wanting American goods.
Eleven million people just 90 miles off our shore. What a market that can be for us. Not only that, to help the Cuban people. And I truly believe the people are ahead of their government. Just walking around there, everywhere you see the date December 17th. That’s on their artwork. And to us that means nothing. To them, that’s the day that the Presidents, both of them, said they wanted to open relations.
Mr. Adams: I’ve been there, too. I came away with the same impressions. But we’ve heard arguments here saying you can’t trust them to pay, trade isn’t going to help the people there. How do you respond to those things?
Sen. Klobuchar: Well, I think our 50, over 50 years of a policy that hasn’t worked, that’s how I first respond. Secondly, you know, this is going to go slowly, and this is going to be private investment, just like everything—some works, some doesn’t.
But what we’re talking about is opening up a relation that we have with many other countries. And I figure the only way we’re going to see the kind of human rights improvements is by negotiating some of this, ultimately lifting the embargo. And right now our countries are negotiating on potentially opening embassies, have ambassadors. We haven’t even done that. So there is a lot of work that needs to be done.
Mr. Adams: Yeah, I’ve always believed we could bring about more good change by doing more with them rather than less.
Sen. Klobuchar: Right, exactly. And they are just thirsty for American culture, and have so many relatives, obviously, people who’ve left in America that they want to see. And the tourism is a huge possibility as well. So I think it’s really exciting. And it was great to see all the old cars and the old buildings, and I know Americans want to see that, but we still have to remember there’s nothing romantic about poverty, and that is the issue there because they just haven’t had any…they’re just starting to have a private sector.
Six hundred thousand people are now in the entrepreneurial sector, starting their own businesses. They literally have their own currency because…they have two currencies because it’s such a mess. So we know that change has to be made. But I think it’s just an example of our farm groups coming behind a policy that’s forward thinking.
Mr. Adams: On the subject of trade, a lot of debate over TPA. How do you feel about it?
Sen. Klobuchar: Well, I want to see what the proposal is. I know that Senator Wyden is negotiating it. I voted, you know, that’s the Trade Promotion Authority, but when it comes to trade agreements, I voted for some, voted against others, and I really look at them on a case by case basis. The other thing for ag is just we’re constantly fighting those fights regardless of the trade agreements.
When, for instance, H1N1—I won’t call it what the…well, swine flu. But that was such a wrong name. And we see countries that are always trying to shut their borders down for different things. Sometimes they use things as an excuse, as we know. So I figure one of my roles as part of the President’s Export Council and on the Ag Committee and the Commerce Committee is to really push when those things happen so we keep these markets open.
Mr. Adams: Do you like what you see or hear about TPP so far?
Sen. Klobuchar: Well, again, I really listen to all the groups in our state. And a lot of the ag groups in the past, we still, you know, things still get negotiated, and they want to change, and the [pork] people like this, so I want to talk to everyone and then look at the agreement.
Mr. Adams: There’s a lot of discussion here certainly with Farm Bureau members, concerns about Waters of the U.S. How do you feel about—will Congress, you think, take action to stop the Waters of the U.S. rule?
Sen. Klobuchar: Well, I have concerns about that rule. I’ve expressed them to the EPA. I’ve been part of a letter. I voted today to…[pretty much] the budget is kind of sending a message to the EPA that they need to make some changes to that rule. I do want to see what the rule is. But I think that there’s been some major problems, not just from farmers, but also from our counties.
Mr. Adams: Senator, I know you have to go. Thank you very much. Appreciate it.
Note: Thanks again very much to the many readers who have expressed how much they have enjoyed the FarmPolicy newsletter over the years. The numerous Emails and tweets from readers about the newsletter ending next week have been extraordinarily gracious and very much appreciated.
Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack and Deputy Agriculture Secretary Krysta Harden were both guests on yesterday’s AgriTalk radio program with Mike Adams, where a good deal of the discussion focused on the Farm Bill.
Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack was a guest on today’s AgriTalk radio program with Mike Adams where the discussion focused, in part, on the Farm Bill, trade issues, and the proposed Dietary Guidelines. An unofficial FarmPolicy.com transcript of the discussion with Sec. Vilsack is available below.
Sec. Vilsack says program signup going well but an extension is still a possibility. Decision would come by end of this week.
Mr. Adams: Welcome back. We’re at USDA, talking now with Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack. We appreciate your time, Mr. Secretary. We know you have a lot going on. We just have a limited amount of time, so we want to touch on as many areas as we can. We have a deadline coming up next Tuesday for signup in the farm bill. We just talked with Deputy Secretary Harden, who said you monitor the signup. Are you happy with the way it’s going?
Sec. Vilsack: I am, Mike. We’ve got 95% of the acres reallocated and yields adjusted for 95% of the farms that we expect to participate in that part of it, and about 85% have already made elections on ARC and PLC, which is a significant increase. We’re seeing day-to-day two or three or four percent increase, so we are very pleased with where we are.
And we want to remind folks that if you don’t sign up before the end of the deadline, then the election will be made for you, you’ll be in the PLC program, but you won’t be entitled to benefits in 2015, so we really encourage people to get this work done. And all you need to do is get on the registry, get your appointment set up, and that qualifies.
Mr. Adams:So you do not anticipate, at this point, the need or even the consideration of an extension of that deadline in any way?
Sec. Vilsack:We’re going to look at this from day to day. I’ve talked to our team about maybe the opportunity for flexibility. But given the pace of what we’re seeing, it may not be necessary.
Mr. Adams:But that’s still a possibility?
Sec. Vilsack:It’s still a possibility.
Mr. Adams: Okay, so we’ll watch that as far as as we get closer to that deadline next Tuesday. When would you make that call if there was an extension?
Sec. Vilsack:Probably the end of this week.
Mr. Adams:And of this week.
Mr. Adams: Okay, all right. While we’re here, let’s also talk about trade, because that’s a very hot issue, the talk of TPA and how that impacts, of course, deals like TPP. Where do you think that stands, and getting that message out about the importance of TPA? Because there still seems to be a reluctance by some to go with that. How important is it?
Sec. Vilsack: Mike, farmers need to get engaged in this conversation. They need to make sure their members of Congress and their senators understand how important this is for them personally and for agriculture generally. Thirty percent of our ag sales trade related, roughly equivalent to our net farm income, so if we don’t have export opportunities, we’re not going to make as much money.
This TPP opportunity is a huge opportunity to expand to an increasing middle class in Asia—five hundred and twenty-five million consumers, middle class consumers today in Asia. In just 15 years it’ll be 3.2 billion. It’s a huge opportunity for us. We anticipate $123 billion impact on our overall economy from TPP. Ag is roughly 9% of exports. You can do the math. So we’re talking about hundreds of millions, if not billions of dollars of opportunity. This is critically important.
Last point. If we don’t do this, China will. I’d rather have us lead the effort on labor, and environment, and enforcement mechanisms, and IP protection, and agriculture than having the Chinese lead that effort.
Mr. Adams: A concern about Japan. Will they come down on their tariffs? Will they play ball with the other partners in this? What are you hearing?
Sec. Vilsack:We’ve had progress with Japan. Still work to do. Our Canadian friends less flexible and less willing to negotiate. Part of it, I think, is that we don’t have TPA in place. Those that we’re negotiating with are assuming that, under the current situation, any trade agreement would be subject to modification or amendment by Congress. That’s 535 people that could weigh in on this. We can’t have that if we want to conclude these negotiations in a timely way. We need to get Trade Promotion Authority done.
Mr. Adams: I want to talk about these proposed dietary guidelines. A lot of concern, especially in the livestock industry, that red meat is going to be phased out of the school lunch programs. You’re going to be very much involved in making these final determinations. You have said it’s about health, it’s about nutrition, not about environment. What can you tell us about how this process is going to play out?
Sec. Vilsack: Well, the first thing is we extended the comment period because we want to make sure people have an opportunity to weigh in on this. And I want to reassure people who are listening to this program and reassure the ag community that I understand what my job is. My job is not what the experts on the panel, Scientific Advisory Panel, had. They had freedom to basically opine about a lot of different things. And some of the things that they brought up are appropriate to have discussions about, perhaps not in the context of dietary guidelines, but in the context of overall where are we headed in agriculture.
My job, based on the statute, based on the law, I took an oath to follow the law, follow the Constitution. That oath basically says even if I want to talk about other things, I have to look at dietary and nutrition. That’s what we ought to be deciding these guidelines on, and that’s what I intend to make sure that I do. Obviously I can’t speak for the full process because Secretary Burwell’s got a very important role to play as well.
Mr. Adams: You’ve come out with the definition “actively engaged” as far as those that can receive farm program benefits. Senator Grassley says it’s a step in the right direction. He would like to see it go farther. Tell us about how you came up with this particular definition and who you see it applying to.
Sec. Vilsack:I think we’ve probably hit it just about right because the folks who wanted more strict restrictions are not happy, the folks who feel maybe we’ve gone a little bit too far are not happy, so I suspect we’ve hit it right. Look, Congress directed us to do this, but also limited us in terms of what we could do. It said you can’t do this relative to family farms, you don’t have to do it relative to corporations, so all that’s left are joint ventures, limited partnerships and general partnerships, roughly 1,500 operations throughout the United States. There we said the default position is one actively engaged manager.
Now if you’ve got a complex or a large operation, you might be able to make the case, if you were to adequately document that case, to have more than one, but you can’t have any more than three. And I think that’s a reflection of the flexibility that we need relative to the nature of agriculture generally, but also tightening up what was a very significant loophole where we had ten, 15, 20 different people saying because I was on a conference call and made a decision to buy this or that, or to plant this or that, I’m somehow actively engaged. We want to get it back to a system that we can defend.
Mr. Adams: We’re almost out of time. Coexistence. Can we achieve that, do you think, in agriculture?
Sec. Vilsack:I think we have to. Now I may be the only person in America that believes that, but look, GMOs are here to stay. We need them if we’re going to feed the world. Organic is a high value proposition. If we want young people to get engaged in this business and be able to do it from scratch, organic is a way to do it without having to buy 1,000 acres and have the capital costs associated with it. So to me coexistence is about making sure that all options are on the table for folks.
Mr. Adams: Very good. So we watch this week for any announcements on the deadline for the signup, but right now you feel pretty good about the way it’s going.
Mr. Adams: Very good. Thank you, Mr. Secretary.
Sec. Vilsack: Thanks, Mike.
Mr. Adams: Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack, as we wrap up our broadcast here at USDA.
Deputy Secretary of Agriculture Krysta Harden was a guest on today’s AgriTalk radio program with Mike Adams where, in part, the discussion focused on the Farm Bill. An unofficial FarmPolicy.com transcript of a portion of today’s discussion is available below.
Mr. Adams: And welcome back, as we broadcast today from USDA here in Washington, D.C. A little bit later we’ll talk with Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack, but very happy to have with us right now Deputy Secretary Krysta Harden. How are you?
Ms.Harden: I’m all right, Mike, thank you, and thank you for being at USDA. We’re excited to be your host.
Mr. Adams: Well, I know you’ve got a lot going on, and we’ve got a lot of areas we want to touch on, but this is a busy time, especially we’re coming down to the deadline for getting signed up in the farm bill programs. You’ve been very active with the farm bill implementation. What’s your feel overall how implementation’s been going?
Ms. Harden:Well, overall I feel really good. I think we hit the ground running. We had a lot of time to prepare, frankly, so I think our teams were ready in the field as well as here in Washington, so as soon as Congress got us a bill and the President signed it, we hit the ground.
And, you know, it started out with that disaster program. A year ago we were in the short [rows] on getting that out. The President told the Secretary get it done in 60 days, and we did. We had a really robust process that we tried to be as transparent as we could and as accountable to our stakeholders.
There were a lot of decision points, I think over 400 decision points across the department, so a lot of folks were involved. But we’ve gotten everything out. And I’m glad you mentioned the signup dates. The deadline is next Tuesday. I believe it’s the 31st.
Mr. Adams: Right.
Ms. Harden: So I’m encouraging all your listeners, if you haven’t been into our offices, please go.
Mr. Adams: We’re going to talk with the Secretary about this, but I want to get your thoughts on this because we often talk about it, deadlines don’t seem to mean much in Washington, and they get extended a lot of times. Any thoughts that this one would need to be extended past next Tuesday?
Ms. Harden:Well, you know, we’re looking at the numbers. We’re looking at how many folks, how many outstanding, where we see pockets of problems and trying to really encourage people right now to get in there. This is supposed to work for producers. We want their opinions. They have the ability this time, more than in other farm bills, to really decide what program, what policies work best for their operation, so we want them in there.
We’re encouraging. We sent out postcards, we’re having meetings, we’re working with partners, so I’m really hopeful that this deadline will hold firm. A lot of folks had to sign a register, and you know what that means. It means they’ll come in later for the face-to-face meeting. We just couldn’t handle the workload. And that deadline is actually May 15th, which is a hard deadline if we’re going to be ready for payment. So I’m hopeful that we can get this done within these time frames.
Mr. Adams: Do you monitor signup on a daily basis?
Ms. Harden: We do. The agency does, FSA does, and they give the Secretary numbers, and myself numbers, so we can see what’s happening out in the countryside. And as we get closer to the 31st, we’re seeing an uptick, as you might imagine. Folks realized they had a little extra time in part of the signup, so they’ve used that wisely, I believe. And we are seeing some of the states where we had, you know, smaller numbers even just three, four weeks ago, much better turnout, and having producers come in and talk with our staffs.
Mr. Adams: Is it where you hoped it would be or are you still lagging behind somewhat where you thought it might be?
Ms. Harden:Right now it’s a little bit better than I thought it would be. [With] still, you know, a few days to go, and I think producers will really wait till the very last minute. I think Monday and Tuesday will be very, very busy days for our field staff, but really it has improved over the last couple days and weeks. But we’re looking every day to see what’s needed. This is about giving tools to producers. We want to make sure that they take advantage of [them.]
Note: Thanks very much to the many readers who have expressed how much they have enjoyed the FarmPolicy newsletter over the years. The numerous Emails and tweets from readers about the newsletter ending next week have been extraordinarily gracious and very much appreciated.
Philip Brasher reported yesterday at Agri-Pulse that, “Republicans and Democrats slammed the Agriculture Department over allegations of abuse at a livestock research facility in Nebraska and accused agency officials of stonewalling lawmakers’ requests for information.
“‘It sounds like it was a house of horrors that was going on there,’ said Rep. Tom Rooney, R-Fla., referring to allegations about the U.S. Meat Animal Research Center contained in a New York Times article published in January.
“Rooney, one of several members of the House Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee who grilled USDA officials about the issue, said the allegations cast the cattle industry in a bad light. The idea that the research highlighted in the article was undertaken at the industry’s request was ‘bull-you-know-what,’ Rooney said.”
After a decade of writing the daily, comprehensive, early morning reports, FarmPolicy is ending publication on Friday, April 3.
Since February 2009, the Washington, D.C. based law firm McLeod, Watkinson and Miller has provided financial support to FarmPolicy.com. I am very grateful for the support McLeod has provided during this time.
Additionally, I would like to thank the Champaign, Il based law firm Bartell Powell for providing an excellent work environment and office accommodations for the past year.
I will be spending more time with my five children (15, 12, 9, 6 and, 10 months) and continue my role as their primary caregiver.
“Lawmakers are pushing for a federal law that would require manufacturers to label all genetically engineered foods and any food products that contain genetically engineered ingredients.
“The Genetically Engineered Food Right-to-Know Act, which Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.) introduced in the House and Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) introduced in the Senate, would direct the Food and Drug Administration to enforce the new rule.”
An update on Friday at the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC) Blog stated that, “This week the House and Senate Budget Committees each passed their Fiscal Year 2016 budget resolutions on party line votes.
“Each Committee’s resolution will now go to the floor of the House and Senate for consideration. This will likely take place next week with final passage targeted for the end of the week.”
The NSAC update explained that, “Budget resolutions provide the blue print for the appropriations process that will take place in the coming months. They set binding top line spending caps for the House and Senate Appropriations Committees.
“Budget resolutions may also include ‘budget reconciliation’ instructions, which instruct certain Committees to meet specific deficit-reduction targets through reductions in mandatory spending. Only the House Budget Committee’s version contains reconciliation instructions to the Agriculture Committee.”
“‘Periods of record warmth in the West and not enough precipitation during the rainy season cut short drought relief in California this winter and prospects for above-average temperatures this spring may make the situation worse,’ Jon Gottschalck, chief of the Operational Prediction Branch at the Climate Prediction Center, said in issuing its spring outlook.
“The center, a division of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, also said rivers in western New York and eastern New England have the greatest risk of spring flooding in part because of heavy snowpack coupled with possible spring rain.”
Janet Hook and Kristina Peterson reported in today’s Wall Street Journal that, “House and Senate Republicans have resurrected efforts to curb spending for Medicare and other safety-net programs, releasing budgets this week that bring government entitlements back to the center of political conversation.
“The Senate GOP budget released Wednesday calls for saving $5.1 trillion over 10 years, including $4.3 trillion by repealing the Affordable Care Act and curbing entitlement programs such as Medicare, Medicaid and food stamps.”
The Journal article noted that, “Each chamber will vote on its own budget, before merging them and voting on a unified budget setting overall spending levels for the fiscal year. The policy proposals described in the budgets aren’t binding and stand little chance of becoming law under Mr. Obama, but they send a message about GOP priorities.”
Bettina Boxall reported that, “Parts of the San Joaquin Valley are deflating like a tire with a slow leak as growers pull more and more water from the ground. The land subsidence is cracking irrigation canals, buckling roads and permanently depleting storage space in the vast aquifer that underlies California’s heartland.
“The overpumping has escalated during the past drought-plagued decade, driving groundwater levels to historic lows in some places. But in a large swath of the valley, growers have been sucking more water from its sands and clays than nature or man puts back for going on a century.
“They are eroding their buffer against future droughts and hastening the day, experts warn, when they will be forced to let more than a million acres of cropland turn to dust because they have exhausted their supplies of readily available groundwater.”
The article noted that, “Until last year, California didn’t have a statewide groundwater law, making it an outlier in the West. The legislation, intended to end unsustainable groundwater use, won’t do that any time soon. Agricultural interests opposed the regulations, which call for the creation of local groundwater agencies that have more than two decades to fully comply.
“In the meantime, it’s easier for growers to keep pumping than rein in their use. ‘Telling people they have to stop irrigating is a huge economic thing,’ said Charles Burt, chairman of the Irrigation Training and Research Center at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo. ‘Guys are going to get their guns out. If you were farming, you wouldn’t take that very lightly.’
“When Burt compares the annual groundwater overdraft in the valley with crop water usage, he figures that 1 million to 1.5 million acres will go out of production in coming years. ‘There are just more straws in there than there is water,’ he said. ‘It’s been going on for a long time.'”
Wednesday’s article added that, “The greatest subsidence related to groundwater extraction ever recorded in the U.S. is on the valley’s west side, where the water table plunged 400 feet in the early and mid-20th century. The accompanying soil compaction caused an area southwest of Mendota to sink more than 28 feet. In a now famous 1977 photo, Poland stood by a telephone pole affixed with signs far above his head indicating where the ground had been in 1955 and 1925.
“The subsidence largely stopped and groundwater levels rebounded in many areas after the arrival of federal and state irrigation deliveries, which provided growers with cheaper, better water.
“But even when the water table recovers, subsided basins can’t hold as much water as they did previously. Soil compaction can permanently reduce the pore space between clay particles, leaving less room for groundwater.”
Ms. Boxall explained that, “It is the economics of having to go deeper and deeper for groundwater that will ultimately force growers to retire land. It’s not that the Central Valley’s thick aquifer will run dry. Scientists estimate that it holds roughly 800 million acre-feet of water that seeped deep into the valley’s sands and clays over millenniums from streams and rivers swollen with runoff from the neighboring Sierra Nevada and coastal ranges.
“Farmers will instead run out of water they can afford to pump.”
In a separate article on the front page of today’s LA Times, Ms. Boxall reported that, “With California heading into another parched year, state officials Tuesday beefed up emergency drought regulations, directing urban agencies to limit the number of days residents can water their yards.
“The move is expected to have little or no effect in most major Southern California cities, which already have watering restrictions. The statewide effects are difficult to gauge, as regulators don’t know how many local agencies lack limits.”
Wall Street Journal writer Jim Carlton also reported on this development and noted that, “State officials said they felt compelled to adopt the new rules, and extend others passed last summer, including a ban on allowing sprinkler runoff into streets, because of the growing severity of one of California’s worst droughts. Reservoirs in the state sit at less than 60% capacity following a fourth consecutive dry winter, which has left the state’s mountain snowpack at a record low of less than 20% of the historical average.
“Officials said that while Californians have largely heeded Gov. Jerry Brown’s calls to conserve more—saving enough since last June to meet the needs of a city of two million for a year—it hasn’t been enough. In part, the water managers are frustrated by statewide surveys that show a declining conservation rate recently after initial strong compliance.”
Meanwhile, Adam Nagourney reported in Wednesday’s New York Times that, “The rainy season drove into California in December with wet and windy promise: soaking rain, snow, dark gray skies and a flash of hope that the drought that has scorched this region had run its course. And then came January — with record high temperatures and record low rainfall.
“And now, as the end of the official rainy season approaches — this state gets 90 percent of its water from December through April, most of it in December and January — California is facing a punishing fourth year of drought. Temperatures in Southern California soared to record-high levels over the weekend, approaching 100 degrees in some places. Reservoirs are low. Landscapes are parched and blighted with fields of dead or dormant orange trees. And the Sierra Nevada snowpack, which is counted on to provide 30 percent of the state’s water supply as it melts through early summer, is at its second-lowest level on record.”
The New York Times article also included a link to this video:
Jonathan Weisman reported in today’s New York Times that, “House Republicans called it streamlining, empowering states or ‘achieving sustainability.’ They couched deep spending reductions in any number of gauzy euphemisms.
“What they would not do on Tuesday was call their budget plan, which slashes spending by $5.5 trillion over 10 years, a ‘cut.’
“The 10-year blueprint for taxes and spending they formally unveiled would balance the federal budget, even promising a surplus by 2024, but only with the sort of sleights of hand that Republicans have so often derided.”
The Times article added that, “The House Budget Committee will formally draft the budget on Wednesday, as Senate Republicans unveil their counteroffer. Like the House version, the Senate’s will balance in 10 years, aides to Republicans senators said. Like the House, the Senate will include language to help lawmakers repeal or reshape the Affordable Care Act this year. How the two chambers resolve their differences could be a central drama in Washington throughout the spring.”
On Tuesday, the House Appropriations Agriculture Subcommittee heard USDA budget related testimony from Under Secretary for Food, Nutrition, and Consumer Services, Kevin Concannon.
During his opening statement, Subcommittee Chairman Robert Aderholt (R., Ala.) indicated that, “USDA’s nutrition programs account for 75 percent of total resources in the Agriculture Appropriations Bill. Your request for fiscal year 2016 is approximately $112.4 billion, a $2.1 billion increase above the fiscal year 2015 enacted level. The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) is USDA’s largest program serving more than 46 million people per month with a requested program level of $83.7 billion. For Child Nutrition Programs the President’s budget projects that total funding needs will approach $21.6 billion in fiscal year 2016 – a $2.2 billion increase since fiscal year 2014. The Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children, or WIC, accounts for the single largest discretionary program in the bill. The budget proposes level funding for WIC at $6.6 billion to meet the estimated 8.5 million participants each month.”
He added that, “The President’s budget proposes cuts to the crop insurance program, and Secretary Vilsack said in an interview that this proposal was a way to help keep projected farm bill savings on track. But in case the Administration missed it, farm bill nutrition savings are not materializing as projected either, so where in this budget is a proposal to ensure the nutrition savings stay on track?”
Chairman Aderholt also noted that, “And finally, I cannot stress enough the importance of your role in making sure the final 2015 Dietary Guidelines for Americans are strictly focused on dietary and nutrient recommendations. The most current science must be used and the statutory directive must be followed – and this goes beyond just sustainability and statements on meat consumption. While I appreciate Secretary Vilsack’s comments that he understands his role and he knows he has to follow the law – and Commissioner Hamburg from the Food and Drug Administration made similar statements two weeks ago – that message needs to be clear throughout the entire Administration.”