FarmPolicy

October 25, 2014

Climate Legislation; Harvest; Animal Agriculture; Nutrition Programs; and Biofuels

Climate Legislation

Lisa Lerer reported on Friday at Poltico.com that, “While Sen. Barbara Boxer was celebrating her committee’s passage of a sweeping climate change bill Thursday, other Democrats and Republicans were already looking for a Plan B.

“Rank-and-file members from both parties dismissed the Boxer bill, coal-state senators were unhappy and many said Boxer’s move to approve the bill without any Republicans even in the committee room had poisoned the process.

“‘It dooms that particular legislation. The question is what comes next,’ said Alaska Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski. ‘We will see what Plan B is.’”

Ms. Lerer explained that, “Moderates are looking to Sens. John Kerry (D-Mass.), Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) to come up with that Plan B, which may include more incentives for nuclear power, renewable fuels and maybe even domestic drilling to draw support of moderate Democrats and some Republicans.

“Key Democrats said the Boxer legislation was moving too fast for some coal and manufacturing states.”

Friday’s article pointed out that, “As he walked into the Senate on Thursday after the EPW vote, Kerry swung a long arm around Sen. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.), who said last week that a cap-and-trade bill would not pass the Senate this Congress.

“‘I don’t know that I’m playing a key role, but we’re talking,’ Nelson said after their conversation. ‘I think that’s important.’”

Bennett Roth reported today at Roll Call that, “After contentious Senate committee action on climate change legislation last week, industry and environmental interests are focusing on a select group of Senators who are trying to forge consensus on the heated issue.

“Much of the attention will be aimed at Sens. John Kerry (D-Mass.), Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.), who are seeking common ground between those who want to curb greenhouse gas emissions and others who fret about the economic consequences.

More broadly, the next round of lobbying will also target the chairmen and ranking members of five other committees that have jurisdiction over the legislation as well as Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), who will have the final say over what goes into the legislation.”

The Roll Call article explained that, “Key members of Senate committees that will be considering the climate change legislation are also getting attention from outside groups.

The World Wildlife Fund is planning to run television ads supporting climate change legislation in Alaska and Arkansas, in part because Sen. Blanche Lincoln (D-Ark.) is chairman of the Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry Committee, and Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) is ranking member on the Energy and Natural Resources Committee.

“Joe Pouliot, a spokesman for the World Wildlife Fund, said the groups’ seven-figure advertising campaign on behalf of climate change is unprecedented.”

With respect to Senator Lincoln, a brief audio report posted on Thursday at Agri-Pulse.com (MP3) by Agri-Pulse Senior Editor Stuart Doane, included comments from Sen. Lincoln regarding the EPW Committee vote on Thursday, and reported that, “Sen. [Debbie Stabenow’s [D-Michigan] ag offsets package leaves ‘many’ issues unaddressed, according to Senate Ag Chair Lincoln.”

Reuters news provided a “Fact Box” overview of the climate legislation in a summary article last week that included a possible timeline of how the bill might move forward, to view this article just click here.

Meanwhile, in an article from yesterday, Doyle McManus provided perspective on the current political environment that the climate bill will be moving forward under, with a particular focus on the executive branch: “President Obama didn’t get much time last week to savor the gauzy one-year-after retrospectives of his 2008 election victory, with its 53% of the popular vote and 365 electoral votes. He had other numbers to think about.

“On Friday, the Labor Department announced that unemployment hit a 26-year high of 10.2% last month. Earlier last week, in Virginia and New Jersey — states that were Obama’s last year — Republicans won gubernatorial seats by margins of about 17% and 5%, respectively. And the president’s own approval rating, a dizzying 78% when he was inaugurated, has fallen to a prosaic 50%.”

Emily Vaughan reported on Friday at the National Journal Online that, “Congressional Insiders in both parties have grown more skeptical about the chances for cap-and-trade legislation, while top political bloggers‘ predictions break down along ideological lines, according to National Journal’s latest surveys.

“Only 53 percent of the 38 Democratic Insiders polled this week believed it was very likely or somewhat likely that cap-and-trade would pass in this Congress. That’s down from 87 percent who said in June that cap-and-trade was ‘likely’ to pass this year.”

With respect to recent editorial opinion on climate legislation, Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack indicated yesterday at the Wichita Eagle Online (Kansas) that, “I know America’s farmers are concerned about how climate-change legislation will impact their bottom line. That’s why we had top economists at USDA prepare an analysis of the costs and benefits to American agriculture. The centerpiece of the legislation is the creation of a market that will offer opportunities for nonpolluting sectors, such as agriculture, to sell offsets to industries that emit greenhouse gases.

USDA’s economists found that the opportunities for farmers and ranchers in a cap-and-trade program will outweigh the potential costs. While a Northern Plains wheat producer might see an increase of 80 cents per acre in costs of production by 2020 due to higher fuel prices, the same farmer could earn an additional $6.40 per acre in offsets by adopting no-till practices. And it’s quite possible that he could do even better as we develop science that will increase the production of homegrown energy and he sells his wheat straw to make cellulosic ethanol.

Even under conservative assumptions, the benefits to American agriculture will keep pace with the costs during the initial years of the program. Over the long term, the benefits will far outweigh costs, growing to almost $15 billion to $20 billion in 2040-50. At that rate, agricultural offsets could be worth more than 5 percent of today’s total agricultural sales.”

The Los Angeles Times editorial board indicated yesterday that, “If you think the partisan divide over healthcare reform is ugly, take a look at the animus in the Senate as debate continues on a key climate change bill. So wide is the gulf that long-held Senate traditions on decorum are breaking down. And as Washington fiddles, the Earth burns.”

The LA Times added that, “Wiser heads are working to salvage the legislation, with John Kerry (D-Massachusetts), Lindsey Graham (R-South Carolina) and Joe Lieberman (I-Connecticut) announcing plans to craft a bill that can attract the 60 votes needed to avoid a filibuster. But Democrats from Southern and coal-producing states are reluctant to sign on, and attracting any GOP votes will be a challenge; many believe the chances are slim that the bill, which sets a cap on emissions while allowing polluters to trade carbon credits, will be approved this year.

“Such a failure would be disastrous in more ways than one. With no commitment to cut greenhouse gases in the U.S., it would be next to impossible to get other big polluter nations on board in Copenhagen in December for a global agreement on fighting climate change. Another year’s delay will make future efforts more expensive and less effective. With a third of all Senate seats up for election in 2010, it will become even harder to pass controversial legislation.”

The Washington Post editorial board noted yesterday that, “There are good arguments for pursuing a big international agreement on climate change. Not least of them is that many countries’ commitments are contingent on others taking similar actions. But even if negotiators eventually succeed in producing a binding treaty, the commitments to emissions cuts now on the table are probably inadequate to prevent an unacceptable rise in global temperatures over the next several decades. That’s a problem the world will have to revisit, even if Copenhagen is a ringing success.”

From an international perspective, Nicholas Winning reported yesterday at The Wall Street Journal Online that, “Finance ministers from the Group of 20 leading economies were struggling to agree on climate-change issues at their meeting Saturday, with big developing economies reluctant to make commitments before broader talks in Copenhagen next month.

“The apparent lack of progress on climate issues doesn’t bode well for the United Nations summit in Denmark in December, where nations hope to agree a new global deal to tackle global warming.”

James Lamont reported on Friday at the Financial Times Online that, “United Nations-led negotiations on climate change are making the same mistakes as global trade talks that ran aground at the World Trade Organisation last year, a senior adviser to India’s prime minister has warned.

“Nitin Desai, a member of Manmohan Singh’s council on climate change and a former top UN official, said a hard-nosed concession-based negotiation to reach a global consensus on how to combat global warming would likely founder. He urged political leaders to focus on common ground in the run up to UN climate change talks in Copenhagen next month rather than haggle bitterly over reciprocal concessions.”

The FT article added that, “The prospect of the climate talks going the same way as the stalled Doha round of trade talks is alarming. Asia’s third largest economy, in defence of its impoverished farmers, was embroiled in a stand-off at the WTO that led to the talks breaking down. The global economic downturn has damped their quick revival.”

Harvest

The AP reported on Friday that, “State agriculture experts say soggy weather that drenched Arkansas during much of the harvest season will cut farm receipts statewide by nearly $225 million.

“The Arkansas Cooperative Extension Service on Friday released figures from the Division of Agriculture at the University of Arkansas. Researchers say some farmers were devastated by the weather, which included upward of 15 inches of rain during October. Much of Arkansas averages only 4 or 5 inches of rain during the month.”

Paul L. Hollis reported on Friday at the Southeast Farm Press Online that, “Alabama Commissioner of Agriculture Ron Sparks is calling it a ‘potential crisis’ — the rainy weather conditions throughout most of September and October that have frustrated growers who were eyeing pretty good cotton, peanut, soybean and corn crops.

“The same holds true for producers in Georgia and north Florida, where harvest has been delayed by almost continuous rainfall, during what is usually the driest months of the year.

“‘Prior to September, many producers were expecting to harvest a bumper crop and were very optimistic for the upcoming harvest season,’ says Sparks. ‘Uncommon and unfavorable precipitation during September and October have degraded various crops and caused poor harvesting conditions, which caused the harvest to be behind schedule by around four to six weeks.’”

A Daily Radio Newsline item from USDA reported on Friday that, “Crop insurance coverage for spring crops officially ends December 10th, but some farmers may not have been able to harvest those crops by then. Officials say crop insurance will be flexible on this,” to listen to this brief USDA audio report, just click here.

Meanwhile, DTN Meteorologist Bryce Anderson indicated on Friday that, “The recent trend to more favorable harvest weather will stay with us for awhile. Dry and mild conditions will again cover the entirety of the central U.S. crop region. This trend is very favorable for crop drying and harvest heading into the weekend.”

Greg Soulje noted at Brownfield on Friday that, “Dry weather throughout the Midwest favors a gradual increase in fieldwork, although many producers continue to struggle with wet soils and harvested crops that need to be mechanically dried due to high moisture content.”

Bloomberg writer Jeff Wilson reported on Friday that, “Corn and soybeans fell for the third straight day on speculation that warm, dry weather will hasten U.S. harvesting, boosting supplies for food and feed producers.

“Weather conducive to field work is expected across the Midwest in the next 15 days, Joel Widenor, the director of agriculture services for Commodity Weather Group in Bethesda, Maryland, said in a report. About 49 percent of U.S. soybeans and 75 percent of the corn remained to be gathered as of Nov. 1, according to government estimates.

“‘It is going to be a big weekend for harvesting,’ said Greg Grow, a director of agribusiness at Archer Financial Services in Chicago. ‘The forecasts are favorable for the next two weeks.’”

Jeff Caldwell reported on Friday at Agriculture Online that, “Combines are running full-bore around the Midwest in an effort to make up for one of the slowest fall harvest seasons in history.

But, that doesn’t mean all the rough water’s behind farmers. The corn and soybeans are being put away into storage on the wet side, putting a premium on a good grain drying system and the fuel needed to power it.”

Animal Agriculture

Sally Schuff
reported on Friday at Feedstuffs Online that, “U.S. and European leaders meeting in Washington on Nov. 3 for a TransAtlantic summit on key issues agreed to include a new initiative to study antibiotic resistance.

“In a joint declaration issued by White House and the EU, summit leaders agreed to ‘establish a transatlantic task force on urgent antimicrobial resistance issues focused on appropriate therapeutic use of antimicrobial drugs in the medical and veterinary communities, prevention of both healthcare- and community-associated drug-resistant infections, and strategies for improving the pipeline of new antimicrobial drugs, which could be better addressed by intensified cooperation between us.’

“The antibiotic resistance issue was among several other major topics addressed at the summit including climate change, nuclear proliferation, Middle East peace and development aid to address global hunger.

“In a Nov. 6 press statement, the new US-EU task force was praised by medical professionals on both sides of the Atlantic.”

Nutrition Programs

DTN Political Correspondent Jerry Hagstrom reported on Friday (link requires subscription) that, “The effort has started to reauthorize federal child nutrition programs, which will almost certainly result in changes in the foods the government buys for schools and poor children.

“Senate Agriculture Committee Chairman Blanche Lincoln, D-Ark., has scheduled a hearing on the nutrition programs for Nov. 17. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, who is scheduled to testify at the hearing, and Education Secretary Arne Duncan held a key meeting Friday with education and school nutrition officials.”

Mr. Hagstrom explained that, “The programs are reauthorized every five years, so that Congress can determine whether the programs are meeting their goals, whether the children who need access to the food are getting it and whether the food mix should be changed. In recent years, there has been increasing concern about the content of food, because of rising obesity rates in children. Producers of calorie-dense foods, like meat and dairy products, are expected to be in a battle with fruit and vegetable producers over each group’s share of the federal school meal dollar.

“Congress was supposed to reauthorize the programs this year, but that effort failed, due to other business priorities. The programs expired on Sept. 30, but Congress extended the current program for one year with plans for a full, five-year reauthorization next year.

“‘When so many families are struggling with job losses and a poor economy, ending childhood hunger and improving child health take on even more importance,’ Lincoln said in a statement announcing the hearing.”

Meanwhile, the AP reported today that, “The chairman of the House Education and Labor Committee wants an investigation into the risk of deadly E. coli getting into school lunches.”

Biofuels

Philip Brasher reported in yesterday’s Des Moines Register that, “The corncob could be losing its special place in the nation’s energy future.

“The 2007 energy bill required that refiners start using biofuels made from cobs, wheat straw, grasses and other sources of plant cellulose by 2010, with the mandate growing annually to reach 16 billion gallons by 2022.

But now there is an effort in Congress to expand that mandate to include fuels made from algae and microorganisms. A climate bill the Senate is considering would replace the requirement for use of cellulosic biofuels with a broader mandate for ‘advanced green biofuels.’”

Mr. Brasher noted that, “The change could encourage investors to put more money into developing algae fuels. Until now, companies focused on turning cellulose into ethanol have had the mandate, and the powerful investment incentive it represents, all to themselves.

“‘Algae fuels are going to get more investment regardless, as they’re already doing quite well in that regard,’ said Kenneth Green, who follows energy policy for the American Enterprise Institute, a Washington, D.C., analyst. ‘But certainly, if algae fuels are part of a mandate, you have even more certainty regarding your potential investment.’”

The Register item indicated that, “Kevin Book, an analyst with ClearView Energy Partners, said the new definition could hurt cellulosic developers while aiding the algae sector. The fact that the Senate bill includes the expanded definition shows there is growing support for expanding the 2007 mandate beyond cellulosic fuels, he said.

Robert Brown, director of Iowa State University’s Bioeconomy Institute, said he believes the mandate is big enough to accommodate algae- and cellulosic-based fuels. ‘There is plenty of room for biofuels developers of all stripes,’ he said.”

Keith Good

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