Climate Legislation; Ag Economy; Animal Agriculture; Food Safety; Crop Insurance; Peanuts; and Nutrition Programs
Climate Legislation: Senate
Senate Agriculture Committee Ranking Member Saxby Chambliss issued a news release on Friday, which stated that, “Following a Senate Agriculture Committee hearing on the effects of climate change legislation on farmers, U.S. Senator Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.) and other members of the Committee today sent a letter to Dr. Joseph Glauber, U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Chief Economist, requesting updates to USDA’s study regarding EPA’s agriculture analysis of H.R. 2454, the American Clean Energy and Security Act of 2009. U.S. Senators Thad Cochran (R-Miss.), John Cornyn (R-Texas), Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), Mike Johanns (R-Neb.), Richard Lugar (R-Ind.), Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), Pat Roberts (R-Kan.) and John Thune (R-S.D.), joined Sen. Chambliss in signing the letter asking USDA to brief the Committee on the results of the analysis.
“In the letter, the Senators said USDA’s ‘Preliminary Analysis of the Effects of H.R. 2454 on U.S. Agriculture’ is a first step in understanding the vast impacts of H.R. 2454; however it is more appropriate for USDA to use a range of estimates, rather than rely solely on estimates from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Last week, Sen. Chambliss wrote EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson requesting the release of a model Professor Bruce McCarl at Texas A&M University provided, along with all data and supporting information including assumptions and results to the Committee.
“Additionally, during the hearing members noted acreage estimates from the American Farm Bureau Federation regarding the conversion of cropland to new forest land. Initial estimates calculated from data furnished by EPA indicated 40 million acres would be subject to afforestation; however according to Committee calculations, that figure could be significantly higher. It appears that the June 2009 EPA analysis would suggest a minimum of 78 million acres of cropland would be converted to forests by 2050. That is nearly 20 percent of total cropland in the United States.”
Recall that on Thursday, Senators Johanns, Roberts and Thune, held a press briefing “to stress the need for more Senate Agriculture Committee hearings to discuss further the impact cap-and-trade legislation will have on American agriculture.”
At that briefing, Sen. Johanns provided a general recap of some of the concerns that the Senators shared, including issues associated with land use changes and resulting impacts on commodity and food prices; as well as concerns regarding the USDA analysis of the bill.
To listen to the general recap and overview provided by Sen. Johanns on Thursday, just click here (MP3-4:00).
Meanwhile, climate change and agriculture was also the subject of Senator Charles Grassley’s (R-Iowa) weekly address, which he made on Friday. In his remarks (MP3-3:30), Sen. Grassley expressed concern about the influence climate legislation could have on production costs, particularly when international competitors may not face similar obstacles, and he also noted that unilateral action on this issue by the U.S. would likely provide little environmental gain if other countries did not act to reduce emissions as well.
Climate Legislation: House
With respect to perspective from lawmakers in the House over recent developments in the debate over climate legislation, House Agriculture Committee Ranking Member Frank Lucas (R-Oklahoma) indicated at his blog on Friday that, “Recently, the U.S. Department of Agriculture released a preliminary analysis of the effects H.R. 2454, the cap and trade legislation, will have on the livelihoods of our farmers and ranchers.
“This is a simple, but not very revealing study. It does not present a complete and realistic analysis of all the costs associated with growing food and fiber. Our farmers and ranchers deserve a better accounting of the costs associated with a cap and trade scheme than what USDA produced today. Members of the House Agriculture Committee, of which I am Ranking Member, have been waiting for this study for two months and it is still inadequate.”
Rep. Lucas added that, “The bottom line is we still need more information. This analysis was effective in producing more questions than answers about a bill that will invariably change for the worse the economic landscape of our nation forever.”
Climate Legislation- Executive Branch
The executive branch has been actively making its case for the climate bill. A news release posted at USDA Online on Friday stated that, “On the heels of their testimony to the U.S. Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works, four members of President Obama’s Cabinet have published op-ed columns in regional newspapers throughout the country. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, Energy Secretary Steven Chu, EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson, and Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, each draw on their respective areas of expertise to make the case for a comprehensive energy plan that will free America from the grip of foreign oil while creating millions of jobs and reducing harmful pollution.”
The release included excerpts from each of the opinion items. Sec. Vilsack’s Op-Ed was published in The Des Moines Register last week (“Addressing climate change could revitalize rural America”) and he noted in part that, “This issue [climate change] is too important for agriculture and forestry to sit on the sidelines. The opportunities it offers farmers and ranchers through a carbon market and a new energy economy are too promising to delay. Because, when we address climate change, we will not only fend off a looming climate crisis, but we will revitalize rural America.
“The U.S. House of Representatives has passed and the Senate is considering legislation to create a viable carbon-offsets market – one that rewards farmers, ranchers and forest landowners for stewardship activities. An offsets market represents a significant economic opportunity for farm communities. Addressing climate change also has the potential to play a very important role in helping our country wean itself from foreign oil. Landowners can play an important role in providing low-carbon renewable energy.
“The potential of our working lands to generate greenhouse-gas reductions is significant. Already today, our lands take carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases out of the atmosphere. In fact, forest and agricultural lands in the United States already offset about 15 percent of our domestic greenhouse gases by capturing carbon from the air and storing it in soils, vegetation and trees. Many scientists believe that, with the right incentives, farmers, ranchers and forest landowners could do even more by using conservation tillage, planting trees, using cover crops or undertaking a variety of other stewardship practices. And, climate legislation that includes a robust carbon-offsets market would pay landowners to do these things.”
Climate Legislation- Measuring Offsets
On the complex issue of carbon offsets and carbon credits, Jeffrey Ball indicated at The Wall Street Journal Online on Friday that, “One issue is how to prove a tree really would have been cut down were it not for the sale of a carbon credit. If the tree would have remained standing, then any carbon credit attributed to it wouldn’t be providing a new environmental benefit, even though its buyer would be able to put more carbon dioxide into the air.
“Another question is how to ensure that a tree that spawns carbon credits isn’t later destroyed anyway. If a tree claimed as a source of carbon credits were cut down even a few decades later, then the carbon credits it had produced would be environmentally worthless.”
Similarly questions have also been raised with respect to no-till farming and rewarding “early actors” who have already implemented production practices that are advantageous to the environment. Recall that Agriculture Committee Chairman Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) addressed this matter at last week’s climate hearing and he strongly indicated that early actors should not be excluded from carbon offset participation- To listen to Sen. Harkin’s statement on the early actors issue, see this FarmPolicy.com audio clip (MP3-0:56).
Climate Legislation- Political Calculus
On the political front, Dan Balz, writing in yesterday’s Washington Post, explored the broad and comprehensive agenda that President Obama has undertaken in his first six months in office (“He Promised Change, but Is This Too Much, Too Soon?”) and stated that, “Obama’s decision to launch the most ambitious domestic agenda since Lyndon B. Johnson’s thus became the defining decision of his presidency.
“Obama is now dealing with the consequences. His approval ratings on key issues have eroded. He is battling congressional resistance to his health-care initiative. His energy bill passed the House by a narrow margin and is on hold in the Senate.”
Mr. Balz rhetorically asked, “But was his strategy a mistake?”
The Post article went on to note that, “The economic collapse, which came late in the presidential campaign, offered Obama two paths. He could have argued, justifiably, that he would have to scale back his agenda, that the economy was in such a fragile state that all his attention should be focused on nursing it back to health as soon as possible.
“He also could have explained that, given the amount of money the government would be pouring into the economy, the country could not afford for now a costly overhaul of health care nor an ambitious initiative to combat global warming that includes a controversial cap-and-trade system of energy taxes.
“Given all the challenges Obama is facing, there are some who argue that following that path would have been more prudent. If he had moved more slowly and with a narrower focus, Obama could have nurtured his electoral majority, built greater public confidence around his leadership and emerged with a bigger mandate to pursue his postponed campaign agenda.”
Mr. Balz indicated that, “The second path available to Obama as he prepared to assume the presidency was to go big and bold. Rather than using the economy as an excuse for lack of action on health care and energy, he could use it as the catalyst for action. This strategy was articulated most succinctly by White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel, who advised, ‘Never let a serious crisis go to waste.’
“Obama decided to use the economic crisis to build momentum behind a turbocharged first-year agenda. His rationale was that until the country addressed the cost and availability of health care and put itself on a path away from dependence on foreign oil, there could be no assurance of long-term economic security.”
Kelly Evans reported yesterday at the Real Time Economics Blog (The Wall Street Journal) that, “Fluctuations in oil prices over the last couple years have received no shortage of headlines, but they’re not the only commodity that has seen an increase – followed by a collapse – in prices. The same has happened in agriculture, and the impact of sharply lower prices combined with weak demand and tight credit is taking a devastating toll on farmers.
“In Colorado, for example, 14 farmers and ranchers took their lives last year, double the rate five years ago, according to the Denver Post. In Maine, the Bangor Daily News has reported of at least three known farmer suicides so far this year. Two dairy famers in California have taken their lives in the last six months. The Iowa-based ‘Sowing the Seeds of Hope’ hotline, which serves farmers in seven Midwest states, has fielded about 11,000 calls through April, a 20% increase from the same period a year ago, according to the Post and the Iowa Independent.
“‘The increase in calls really started with the change in dairy prices, as they fell last fall,’ Mike Rosmann, a clinical psychologist and farmer who heads the hotline jointly sponsored by AgriWellness and Iowa State University Extension, told the Post.”
A news release posted on Friday at the National Pork Producers Council Online stated that, “A group of agricultural organizations, including the National Pork Producers Council, today urged the Speaker of the House not to allow a bill to ban certain animal health products to be tacked on to any pending legislation.
“The Coalition for Animal Health, which includes organizations that represent veterinarians, farmers and ranchers, food and feed producers and animal medicine manufacturers, in a letter to Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., asked that the ‘Preservation of Antibiotics for Medical Treatment Act of 2009’ (H.R. 1549) not be added to bills now being considered, including food-safety and health-care reform legislation.
“H.R. 1549 would ban from use in livestock and poultry animal health products that are used to prevent and control diseases. Farmers only would be allowed to use animal health products that treat diseases. The bill also would require all ‘critical antimicrobial animal drugs’ to go through a second U.S. Food and Drug Administration approval process within two years of enactment of the legislation. Currently to win approval, an animal drug maker must demonstrate that a product is effective and safe for animals and for the environment. FDA also must determine that new antibiotics for food animals will not harm human health.”
Philip Brasher reported yesterday at The Des Moines Register Online that, “An effort to improve the safety of fruits, vegetables and processed foods is running into objections from a broad collection of farm interests, including livestock producers, organic farmers and small-scale growers.
“A bill approved by the House Energy and Commerce Committee in June would give the Food and Drug Administration more authority over the 80 percent of the food supply the agency is responsible for regulating.”
Mr. Brasher pointed out that, “The food administration, which regulates most foods except for meat and poultry, would be required to set safety standards for fruit and vegetable farms and inspect food processors more frequently. The legislation also levies a new $500 fee on all processing facilities to pay for the increased regulation.
“But farm groups are raising an array of objections to the bill, and they’ve gotten a positive reception from some of the same Democrats who have set up roadblocks to the party’s initiatives on health care and climate change.”
An update posted on Friday at the Risk Management Agency Online stated that, “USDA’s Federal Crop Insurance Corporation Board of Directors, at its Jun 25, 2009 meeting, approved Kansas, Michigan, Missouri and Ohio for a premium rate reduction for producers who plant Agrisure® 3000GT and Agrisure® CB/LL/RW corn hybrids for non-irrigated corn for grain beginning in the 2010 crop year.
“The Board also approved Kansas and Nebraska for a premium rate reduction for producers who plant Agrisure® 3000GT and Agrisure® CB/LL/RW corn hybrids irrigated corn for grain beginning in the 2010 crop year.”
A news release issued on Friday by the Georgia Peanut Commission stated that, “U.S. Congressman Sanford Bishop, D-Ga., along with a number of other congressmen and senators recently sent a letter to Tom Vilsack, U.S. Secretary of Agriculture, requesting an increase in peanut butter purchases for the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) feeding programs. Congressman Bishop and other key agricultural members of Congress highlighted in the letter that America’s peanut farmers are faced with a significant surplus from the 2008 crop, and have received very few contracts for the 2009 crop.
“Congressman Bishop, joined by nineteen colleagues, stated in the letter, ‘U.S. Department of Agriculture peanut butter purchases peaked in the early 1990’s with over 80,000,000 pounds used in federal feeding programs in a marketing year. Unfortunately, USDA purchases of peanut butter have diminished to less than half of that amount in the last decade.’”
Rep. Gwen Moore (D-Michigan) noted in an updated posted on Friday at The Hill’s Congress Blog that, “Despite the challenges facing Milwaukee and the nation, our children need to be eating three healthy meals each day. Studies have shown that when children go hungry, they are more likely to suffer from behavioral problems, poor attendance at school and difficulty learning.
“That’s why I introduced two pieces of legislation this week to help fill the gap between what parents living in poverty can provide for their kids, and what we know kids actually need.
“Along with Wisconsin Senators Herb Kohl and Russ Feingold, I introduced the Student Breakfast and Education Improvement Act of 2009. This bill would provide grants for universal school breakfast programs in schools across the country, awarded on a competitive basis. Schools with 65 percent of students who are eligible for free and reduced price lunch could apply for these grants.”
Rep. Moore added that, “I also introduced the AFTERSchool Meals Act of 2009 this week, which would give all schools the authorization to provide suppers through either the school meals program that allows them to serve lunches, or through the Child and Adult Care Food Program (CACFP). Every day, 3.1 million children receive nutritious meals and snacks through CACFP, but only 10 states are authorized to serve suppers to children 18 and under through CACFP’s ‘At-Risk’ After School Care Program.”