- FarmPolicy - http://farmpolicy.com -

“Analysis from Washington"- by Dan Morgan- Peanuts

“Analysis from Washington”- by Dan Morgan

In conjunction with expanding FarmPolicy.com viewership, FarmPolicy will also be broadening the amount of information available to readers.

In addition to the daily news summaries, starting today, FarmPolicy.com will also be featuring a new farm policy analysis section, entitled, “Analysis from Washington”- by Dan Morgan.

On Thursday, May 3, 2007, The German Marshall Fund of the United States (GMF) announced that, Dan Morgan, a long time staffer with the Washington Post, who is now a special correspondent for the paper, has joined GMF as a Transatlantic Fellow. Dan will work with GMF’s Economic Policy program conducting transatlantic comparative research on agriculture, with particular emphasis on the U.S. Farm Bill and the EU’s Common Agriculture Policy.

Dan’s analysis at FarmPolicy.com will be posted on a semi-regular basis and will provide readers with additional information that will assist them in assessing and gauging the political dynamics of the farm policy debate in Washington.

Dan’s updates will be available exclusively at FarmPolicy.com (homepage, Email and RSS feed).


The first installment of Dan’s “Analysis from Washington” is available below.


By Dan Morgan- Dan is a special correspondent of The Washington Post and a Transatlantic Fellow at the German Marshall Fund of the United States. “Analysis from Washington” is posted exclusively at FarmPolicy.com.

Southern crops have been well taken care of in Washington in recent years, but political conditions inside the Beltway appear to be getting more difficult for them just as Congress takes up a new farm bill.

To the disappointment of Georgia lawmakers, House and Senate negotiators recently scrapped a $74 million House proposal to have taxpayers cover the costs of handling and storing the 2007 peanut crop. The provision never made it into the Iraq war supplemental spending bill and could be dead.

Meanwhile, cotton interests are worried about the Bush administration’s decision not to include warehouse storage costs for the crop in its 2008 budget. The Mississippi Farm Bureau Federation and the Delta Council have asked Congress for help, the Delta Farm Press reported.

Such setbacks are at the margins. But they do suggest the waning political influence of Dixie on agricultural policy, even as eastern dairymen, Midwest and Great Plains corn and wheat interests, and Connecticut vegetable growers enjoy new strength as a result of last fall’s election.

The peanut story is a case in point. Southern growers were solidly behind the House-approved plan to have USDA paying the costs of storing the new crop, even though most of the payments go directly to several huge warehousing companies, including Archer Daniels Midland and its Swiss partner, not to peanut growers. In the House, the provision had bipartisan backing from Reps. Jack Kingston (R-Ga.), Sanford Bishop (D-Ga.), and Alan Boyd (D-Fla.), whose peanut farm qualified for a $270,000 buyout payment in 2002, according to USDA records.

President Bush took aim at the provision in a radio address, citing it as an example of a domestic spending earmark that had no place in legislation financing the Iraq war.

But it was Sen. Robert C. Byrd (D-W.Va.), not Bush, who did in the provision.

In 2005, Sen. Saxby Chambliss (Ga.), the Republican chairman of the Agriculture Committee, reached across the aisle to help Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) get an extension of the Milk Income Loss Contract (MILC) program, a top priority of eastern dairymen.

This year, when Chambliss needed help for peanuts, Leahy, a member of the appropriations committee drafting the Iraq supplemental, was ready to return the favor. But Byrd, who chairs the Appropriations Committee, said no.

The ostensible reason, according to his staff, was Byrd’s wish to keep the Iraq bill relatively free of veto bait for Bush. But that didn’t stop him from allowing an extension of the MILC program to be tacked onto the bill. For complicated budget technicalities, that provision could be worth hundreds of millions of dollars to the milk industry in a new farm bill, assuming it stays in the revamped supplemental bill on which Congress is now at work.

Congress also approved $3.4 billion in other aid for agriculture, most of it destined to drought-affected farmers in the upper and western Great Plains.

Senate Democrats shed few tears for the peanut provision, with which Chambliss is closely identified. Many of them have never forgiven the Georgia Republican for the no-holds-barred campaign he waged to defeat Georgia Democrat Max Cleland in 2002.

It is hard to imagine such a setback for peanut interests just a few years ago.

When the current farm bill was written in 2001 and 2002, lawmakers representing southern crops—peanuts, cotton and rice—were in key spots. Two Texans from adjoining peanut growing districts—Rep. Larry Combest (R) and Charles Stenholm (D)—were chairman and ranking member of the House Agriculture Committee.

Chambliss, then still in the House, and Alabama’s Rep. Terry Everett (R-Ala.) worked with them to shape landmark peanut legislation that provided a billion dollar buyout for existing quota holders and set up a lucrative new taxpayer-funded program for remaining growers at a cost of about $1.5 billion since 2002. (In a unique twist, peanut growers could exceed the limit on government payments if they were also growing other crops.)

Now, Combest and Stenholm are no longer in Congress, and the recent election relegated Chambliss to ranking member on Senate Agriculture.

“I did think peanuts should have been treated equally with other commodities” in the Iraq bill, Chambliss told me. “But they weren’t.”

MILC’s success, meanwhile, was all but assured by last fall’s voting. Democratic control of Congress installed two lawmakers from Wisconsin at the helm of key appropriations panels: David Obey, chairman of House Appropriations, and Herbert Kohl, chairman of the agriculture subcommittee on Senate Appropriations.

Clearly, elections matter.

The November upheaval shifted the political center of gravity in farm policy northward, to Democratic lawmakers who hold no particular brief for southern crops. In the House, Agriculture Committee Chairman Collin Peterson (D-Minn.) hails from a Red River Valley farming district dominated by sugar beets, corn, wheat and soybeans.

Senate Agriculture Committee Chairman Tom Harkin, an Iowan, is a long-time supporter of stricter payment limits to farmers, anathema to southern lawmakers in both parties.

In the House, the chairmanship of the House Appropriations agriculture subcommittee changed hands from a Texan with close ties to cattle feeders to Connecticut’s Rosa L. DeLauro, who wants to unblock regulations that would require labeling of imported meat.

Last week, DeLauro signaled that she intends to make her voice heard in the drafting of a new farm bill, even though she doesn’t sit on the Agriculture Committee.

She and Rep. Wayne Gilchrist (D-Md.) unveiled a detailed farm bill proposal with a strongly regional slant. DeLauro made clear she wanted to help eastern farmers who traditionally receive relatively little help from USDA programs. Her plan would strengthen nutrition and conservation programs, and benefit eastern farmers by expanding the use of fruits and vegetables in school lunch programs. There was nothing in her press release about peanuts.

Agriculture Committee Chairman Peterson said DeLauro and others had “good ideas,” and he promised to work with her to fold some of them into the farm bill.

By Dan Morgan